Cartoon by Marshall Ramsey
Before 2017, Erik Paulsen, like most House Republicans, voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act (i.e., ACA or Obamacare) more than sixty times without a viable replacement. They knew those votes were a meaningless exercise when Obama was President because he would veto any repeal legislation.
But after Trump was elected and Paulsen knew he would sign a repeal of Obamacare, Paulsen again repeatedly voted to repeal it, apparently without any consideration for the millions of Americans who would lose their health insurance coverage under the Republican plan. Republicans were in such a rush to push their plan through the House they didn’t even wait to get the Congressional Budget Office’s evaluation of its impact. Paulsen simply didn’t care how many people would lose their health insurance.
Why are we bringing this up again now that the Republican Repeal and Replace debacle is over (at least for the time being)? Because a closer look at Paulsen’s behavior on that issue is instructive about his motivations and indicates who he really listens to and what he represents.
When Paulsen voted to repeal and replace Obamacare with a plan that would deprive millions of Americans of health insurance, was he voting to represent the views of the constituents in our congressional district? No. A poll commissioned by the Minneapolis Star Tribune and published on May 3, 2017, the day before the House vote on healthcare, found that “Minnesotans living in and around the Twin Cities overwhelmingly support the ACA and oppose efforts to repeal and replace the law.” Paulsen had to be aware of that. For several months before that vote, many of Paulsen’s constituents contacted his offices in Eden Prairie, MN and Washington to say they disapproved of repealing Obamacare and asked him to hold town hall meetings so they could better inform him of their views. Paulsen refused to hold any town hall meetings. When his office was asked how many people had called to express support for, or opposition to, the repeal of Obamacare, the staff admitted they kept track of those numbers but refused to disclose them. If the majority of office contacts had been in favor of repeal, don’t you think Paulsen’s office would have disclosed that?
When the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare was finally voted on in the House on May 4, 2017, it passed by only four votes and Erik Paulsen was one of them. Why did Paulsen vote to repeal the healthcare law despite the fact that he knew that was contrary to the wishes of the majority of his constituents? Part of the reason was no doubt due to his conservative trickle-down ideology. But you can’t help wondering how much of it was due to prodding and support from the American Action Network.
The American Action Network (AAN) is a 501(c)(4) tax-exempt organization, meaning it is supposed to be a social welfare group that spends less than 50% of its money on politics. Under Citizens United, the amount of donations and expenditures is unlimited. Such organizations typically influence elections through advertising and conservative groups far outspend liberals. 501(c)(4) groups like AAN do not have to identify their donors. Thus, the membership of AAN’s “network” is secret. The “About” page of AAN claims that it is mission is to advocate for “center-right” ideas. But if you search for the term “conservative” on their website you’ll see they often reveal their bias and explicitly call themselves conservative.
American Action Network has advocated repeal of Obamacare since the law was passed in 2010 and claims it spent more than any other group to repeal it. In the 2016 election, AAN spent almost $400,000 in our district in door-to-door and phone call get-out-the-vote efforts for Paulsen. A couple of months later, in January 2017, AAN launched a digital and TV ad campaign here and in a number of other Congressional districts urging repeal of Obamacare and replacement with a Republican plan that AAN claimed would provide more choices, better care, with lower costs and claimed that people with pre-existing conditions would be protected. You can see that ad here. They also ran ads specifically praising Paulsen for “fighting for” the Republican plan. Of course the AAN ads failed to mention that under the Republican plan tens of millions of Americans would lose their healthcare insurance, the Medicaid program would be cut severely and that individuals with pre-existing conditions would be at risk.
On May 5, 2017, the day after Paulsen rejected his constituents’ views and voted for the Republican plan, AAN announced a $2 million TV advertising blitz to thank Congressmen who had voted for repeal. AAN’s Executive Director said, “Conservatives applaud President Trump and Speaker Ryan’s strong leadership to ensure conservative lawmakers kept a long-held promise and delivered historic reforms.” That says a lot about the degree to which AAN and Paulsen are conservative and also makes you wonder who Paulsen made his “promise” to. We thought he had promised to represent the constituents of Minnesota’s Third Congressional District, not some secret right wing network with a conservative agenda
Minnesotans for Real Representation is a grassroots organization in Minnesota's Third District with the goal of replacing Erik Paulsen in 2018.