Sen. Coats thinks 2014 elections should serve as Obamacare referendum

U.S. Sen. Dan Coats says the focus of federal lawmakers in the near term will be the deficit, spending and avoiding another shutdown.
Posted on Oct. 23, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on Oct. 23, 2013 at 6:51 p.m.

The failure of U.S. House efforts to dismantle Obamacare via a government shutdown doesn’t end GOP moves to halt the health care overhaul.

The House GOP effort “was tried, it failed to achieve its goal,” U.S. Sen. Dan Coats said Wednesday, Oct. 23. “So the question is, do we just pack up and go home? Or do we look at a better tactic and see if we can succeed there?”

For Coats, a Republican and Obamacare critic, the answer is to try again, and he thinks the 2014 elections should be used as a referendum of sorts on the future of the Affordable Care Act, as Obamacare is more formally known.

Sure, President Obama has said the referendum came in 2012, when he was re-elected to the White House touting his signature plan. But Coats, speaking via phone between meetings Wednesday in Marion and Kokomo, thinks more germane information has emerged on the plan since then. The public ought to be able to sound off at the polls again.

Over the coming year, Coats said, Republicans should craft an alternative to the Affordable Care Act, criticized by GOP foes as a costly example of government overreach. Then the public can weigh in on it in November 2014, casting ballots for candidates who back the yet-to-be formulated plan or those satisfied with Obamacare.

“That choice that they made in 2012, which the president keeps referring to, we didn’t know half of what we know now about Obamacare,” said Coats, author of a plan to delay implementation of the health care measure. “So I think everybody needs to take a new look ... and then have another chance to post their yes or their no.”


The “health care issue” should be a priority for Washington, D.C., going forward, Coats thinks, along with the U.S. budget and deficit. Those issues were at the center of the recently concluded federal government shutdown.

The shutdown started Oct. 1 after Senate Democrats rebuffed House GOP moves to dismantle Obamacare in legislative proposals to allow continued government spending. The sides reached compromise legislation last week allowing the government to re-open, but the temporary fix — which leaves Obamacare largely untouched — doesn’t permanently resolve lingering U.S. budget and deficit questions.

Rather, last week’s plan, which Coats backed, allows continued government spending only through Jan. 15 and authorizes continued U.S. borrowing only until Feb. 7. It also sets a Dec. 13 deadline for crafting of a long-term spending and budget plan by Democratic and Republican lawmakers to avoid the sort of showdown that led to the Oct. 1 shutdown.

Accordingly, lawmakers need to come together, and Coats, like many, painted the situation in stark terms. “This thing is putting a huge dark cloud of uncertainty over the growth and employment in America,” he said.

Despite other instances in recent years when partisan bickering stymied federal lawmakers’ efforts to resolve thorny budget issues, he thinks a lesson has been learned from the recent shutdown. Things are different now.

“There were no winners last time,” Coats said. “This was a stain on both the Republican and Democrat parties. We were not sent here by the people to come to a stalemate, we were sent here to govern.”

Still, he pointed fingers at Obama and the role of the Democratic president in reaching a broader fix.

“A lot of this will come down to the ability of both sides to realize we can’t continue on the path that we’re on and the support from the president,” Coats said. “In the end, it’s presidential leadership that will lead us to the larger deal, which can eliminate all these short-term fixes.”

Follow reporter Tim Vandenack on Twitter at @timvandenack.

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