Obamacare is blowing up congressional town hall meetings from California to Virginia. But high rollers aren’t stepping up to write checks to defend the law and possibly turn voter outrage over losing coverage into a sustainable movement.
Though many Republicans charge the town hall sessions are stoked by moneyed interests and professional protesters, health care groups and foundations that have been crucial to the Affordable Care Act cause have remained on the sidelines. Without cash, the smaller progressive organizations left could be hard-pressed to fight a long battle as conservatives spend heavily to pressure lawmakers to finish off the law and, possibly, revamp Medicaid.
“If you’re looking for where funding used to go to fight for the health care bill … I think you gotta keep looking,” said Ezra Levin, a former Democratic congressional staffer now helping direct the Indivisible Project, which is organizing pro-Obamacare demonstrations and other protests against President Donald Trump’s agenda. “It’s not coming to us, at least not right now.”
The flow of funds began slowing not long after the law was passed. After securing former President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement, key players involved with messaging and advocacy declared victory and moved on without fully completing the sales job. The Health Care for America Now coalition, one of the most audible voices in getting the law enacted, folded in late 2013 after mounting a $60 million campaign to pass Obamacare and protect it during implementation.
It’s left to groups such as the Indivisible Project to confront GOP lawmakers and tap outrage or voter anxiety over the party’s repeal-replace effort. The progressive forces also include the Protect Our Care campaign backed by health consumer groups, and some of the original backers of Health Care for America Now. Another group, the Alliance for Healthcare Security, has aired several rounds of ads that are largely being funded by the Service Employees International Union, though the SEIU declined to specify how much it had contributed.
Huge amounts of cash for advertising and outreach may not be as essential in a social media-fueled crucible, where town hall confrontations can almost instantly go viral and organizers can rely on Facebook and other tools to mobilize. The pro-ACA groups scoff at the notion advanced by the Trump administration and some GOP lawmakers that Democrats are paying protesters to make a ruckus over Obamacare at town halls. “To say that we’re a ‘grasstops’ thing is a complete lie,” said Indivisible Project co-founder Angel Padilla.
But the pro-ACA groups are up against formidable foes. Republicans intent on not only dismantling the ACA but capping the open-ended nature of Medicaid are getting backing from money powerhouses such as the American Action Network, which is aligned with House Republicans, and One Nation, a group with ties to Senate GOP leadership that’s spending millions of dollars targeting vulnerable Democratic senators up for reelection in 2018.