Rep. Lauren Underwood leading drive to bolster swing district Democrats on Obamacare subsidies
At issue are pending increases in health insurance costs for Affordable Care Act plans. Voters will learn just before the November elections that temporarily boosted subsidies will expire in 2023 — unless Congress acts.
WASHINGTON — Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., is leading the charge to fix a ticking time bomb that could contribute to Democrats in swing districts like hers to be defeated in November and switch control of the House to the Republicans.
At issue are pending cost increases in health insurance purchased under the Affordable Care Act, with voters to learn just before the midterm elections that temporarily boosted subsidies will expire in 2023 — that is, unless Congress acts.
With only Democratic votes in the House and Senate last year, the American Rescue Plan — President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 relief package — included extra subsidies that cut health care costs. That was a provision Underwood, who specializes in health care policy, championed. The lower costs led to a record number of people signing up for health insurance under the ACA, also known as Obamacare.
The political concern is that Democrats will be blamed for health insurance price notices coming at a time when inflation will be at or near all time highs and November voting starts.
The Democratic House has the votes to either extend or make permanent the enhanced subsidies. The Senate, with a 50-50 Democratic/Republican divide, cannot get to the usual 60-vote threshold needed to advance legislation on this.
So the only practical way to pass the health care subsidy measure is to try to push it through by budget reconciliation — an arcane rarely used procedure only requiring 50 votes, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie.
Underwood organized a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer signed by — with Underwood — 26 Democrats from swing districts, including Rep. Bill Foster, D-Ill.
“Our constituents cannot afford to go back to paying upwards of 20 percent – or more – of their household income on health care premiums,” they said in their letter to the congressional leaders, urging an Obamacare fix to be included in upcoming Senate reconciliation legislation.
Early voting for the June 28 primary has already started in Illinois under new congressional maps. Neither Underwood nor Foster have to worry about the primary – but they do – and are – paying attention to November and the potential of a GOP wave.
Underwood’s new 14th District contains about 70% new territory and is rated by the Cook Political Report with Amy Walter as only leaning Democrat.
Foster’s district is rated as likely Democrat and contains 55% new political turf, with a swath of very red precincts.
Even though Springfield Democrats drew the new map to create the maximum number of Democratic districts, they face the political reality that they may not have packed enough Democrats in these districts to make them truly safe.
Two other Illinois districts outside of the Chicago area with open seats drawn to be Democratic may not be if there is a Republican midterm groundswell. The Cook report rates the 13th as only leaning Democratic and the 17th as a Democratic tossup.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, if nothing happens, about 192,000 Illinoisans would be hit with a reduced subsidy and 33,000 would have a complete subsidy loss.
I asked Underwood about the political implications of the subsidy cuts before the midterm elections in a conference call organized by the group Protect Our Care.
“We know that health care and the rising costs just in general are top concerns for voters in 2022,” Underwood said. “We know that people are very sensitive to price increases of all types” and that the newer, lower costs in the American Rescue Plan comes from Democratic — not Republican — votes.
TRUMP COMING TO QUINCY?
There is a lot of political chatter stemming from allies of Rep. Mary Miller, R-Ill., that ex-President Donald Trump might be headlining a rally in Quincy for Miller, locked in a GOP primary battle with Rep. Rodney Davis in the 15th District. Miller is the only Illinois candidate Trump has endorsed, and she was in Mar-A-Largo for a fundraiser with Trump last month. Davis was a 2020 co-chair of Trump’s Illinois campaign.
ILLINOIS LAWMAKERS MAPPING REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS STRATEGY WITH WHITE HOUSE
Illinois Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, was part of a group of state lawmakers from Illinois, California, Connecticut, Maryland, New York, Oregon and Washington huddling via a Zoom with White House Gender Policy Council Director Jennifer Klein and White House Intergovernmental Affairs Director Julie Chavez Rodriguez to map strategy to protect access to reproductive health care.
The meeting took place Tuesday with the Supreme Court likely to strike down Roe v. Wade sometime in the coming weeks, pushing abortion questions to states. Also in the huddle state Rep. Anna Moeller, D-Elgin and state Sens. Celina Villanueva, D-Chicago, and Julie Morrison, D-Lake Forest.
Blue state Illinois is a reproductive rights haven. Harmon told me he briefed the White House about “pending legislation aimed at protecting Illinois health care providers from hostile actions from neighboring states.”