October 3, 2013
Most folks assume that the Republican Party opposes the Affordable Care Act (ACA), sometimes called Obamacare, because the ACA wouldn’t work. But a new line of speculation from Business Insider and the New York Times contends that the law would work so well, and make Democrats so popular, that it would make Republicans the permanent party out of power.
Of course, no one knows that such an event will happen for sure. But we can look back in history and see what happened after Medicare and Medicaid passed. Did the passage of both laws hurt the Republican Party? I had my LaGrange College undergraduates (conservative, liberal and moderate) research the answer in an in-class assignment.
Students found that Medicare was passed on April 7, 1965. Medicaid followed shortly thereafter, on July 30, 1965. But the Republicans actually did better in the next election, picking up 47 new seats in the House of Representatives, taking away three Senate seats as well in the 1966 mid-term elections, as student researchers discovered.
The GOP trend continued in 1968, where Republicans had a net gain of five seats in the House of Representatives and another five Senate seats for the GOP column. The next two elections were split, with Republicans taking two Senate seats and losing 12 representatives in 1970, but got 12 back in 1972, dropping two Senate seats. All in all though, Republicans won six of eight Congressional elections for both chambers of the legislature, with a net total gain of 60 legislative seats in the four elections after Medicare and Medicaid.
LaGrange College students in my American Government class also found that Republicans won five of the next seven Presidential elections (1968, 1972, 1980, 1984, 1988) after Medicare and Medicaid were passed, losing 1976 and 1992 narrowly due to tough economic times.
But when Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole bragged about eliminating Medicare and Medicaid after 1994, the tide turned. Democrats won the U.S. Presidency in 1996, 2008 and 2012, and got the most votes in 2000. Republicans only won one race outright, 2004, and that was a narrow win.
Presidents Nixon, Reagan, Bush Sr. and George W. Bush did not call for a repeal of Medicare and Medicaid, and therefore triumphed. One student found that Reagan criticized Medicare and Medicaid, but did not call for their elimination. Further research found that Reagan worked to give states more authority over some of these programs via block grants.
We still don’t know what will happen, whether the ACA will survive or if it will hurt Republican election fortunes if it does. But if history is any teacher, other health care reforms like Medicare and Medicaid did not hurt the GOP. It actually boosted Republican election wins, as the GOP only had one presidential winner from 1932 through 1964 (moderate Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1950s) and Congress remained in Democratic hands much of that time.