Topics: Obamacare

Tim Scott: Republicans can appeal to black voters, but not by giving up on Obamacare fight

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Republicans hoping to increase their appeal to black Americans shouldn't attempt to do so by supporting Obamacare, according to Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.

"For us to argue that we can make the case that the [Affordable Care Act] will attract more people to our party, I think is, first, just false, and second, it doesn't solve the problem of having more access to health insurance," Scott told the Washington Examiner during a Thursday phone interview when asked about the Black Republican Trailblazer honorees who praised the Affordable Care Act during a Republican National Committee event last week.

"I believe it is very important, in order to be able to give health care to a great portion of our population," RNC award recipient William Brooks told the Examiner on Feb. 4. "I think it's a great act and I think the Republicans should get in there and figure out what are the pieces of it that we like, that are good, and how can we make that work, rather than trying to kill the whole thing."

Scott allowed that some blacks believe "that you're trying to help them by saying 'yes' to the Affordable Care Act, until you actually uncover the facts long term of the Unaffordable Care Act." He argued that Obamacare fails to meet its own standards of success.

"Here's an example: by the year 2024, according to the experts — I'm not one of those guys, by the way, but — according to the experts, we'll have about 31 million Americans who are still uninsured," Scott said. "Right now, we have about 40 million Americans uninsured. So, we're going to spend about $2 trillion to $3 trillion, closer to three than two, basically insuring somewhere between 3-and-a-half and 5 percent of America's population."

Referring to the people have lost their previous insurance policies as Obamacare takes effect, Scott said that "we are destroying an amazing system in an attempt that, according to most experts, is going to fall short of the goal of having full insurance."

Scott offered his recent trips to historically black colleges and universities in South Carolina as proof that Republicans can appeal to minorities on their own terms.

"I'm making my case in person and bringing what I believe is an optimistic, opportunity agenda to their campuses — and everyone doesn't agree with me, but you're not surprised at that, are you? — but it's having the conversation that's half the battle," he said. That doesn't mean he has encountered universal opposition.

"I have spoken in the room of a couple of hundred students and left with a standing ovation," Scott said. "Probably four out of the seven campuses so far, I've had an enthusiastic reception; two of the campuses, mediocre, at best; and one of the campuses, they weren't that interested."

Even as he brings a conservative message to black campuses, Scott warns against trying to play identify politics or pander to particular voting blocs.

"If you reach out to all voters with the same message and you emphasize how that message helps the voter that you're talking to, you typically get a pretty decent connection," he said. "It's when you fail to even show up that it's very, very hard to debate that issue, without even being present."

The message he's been developing acknowledges the income inequality that President Obama has recently emphasized, but Scott argues that Democrats misunderstand "the root of the problem," which he defines in three parts, with the first being "family formation" -- an admittedly difficult problem for government to address.

"I'm not quite sure how much [of the family formation problem] we can solve, but we can have a robust conversation there," Scott said. "But the other two we can solve. Education [or] educational opportunity, and skills. Those two components are the root systems of the fruit of unemployment, the fruit of low wages and the fruit of a major wealth gap in our country. But we spend so much time focused on how to solve the fruit problem, and we haven't taken enough time to focus on what's below the surface."

To that end, Scott has begun developing what he calls an "opportunity agenda," with the first two parts focused on school choice and improving federal job training programs.

"What we’re talking about here today isn’t about simply education or government or who does it better," Scott said while touting the CHOICE Act at the American Enterprise Institute on Jan. 28. "What we’re talking about is perhaps the most important aspect of our human existence. It’s our dignity and our potential. And can we create a system that unleashes that potential in a way where at the end of the journey, kids who are now adults look in the mirror and realize that they are maximizing their potential, changing their communities, and making America the most successful country on earth."

When Scott finished, the moderator thanked him and said he wanted to bring the conversation "back to the policy wonk's level" by directing a particular policy question to Scott's partner on the legislation, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. The moment may be illustrative of what Scott sees as a problem in how Republicans communicated with voters in the last election and how they must change going forward.

"Part of the challenges we face as a party isn't having the right ideas, it's connecting our ideas to the heart," he told the Examiner, adding that the Republicans have recently failed to explain to voters how abstract policy ideas affect individuals.

With his increased efforts on the policy and voter outreach, does Scott foresee a run for the presidency in his future?

"Not that I know of," he laughed. Scott didn't rule out the idea definitively, but said he has no interest in running for the Republican nomination in 2016.

"There are a lot of smart guys and gals out there that will represent the conservative cause really well," he said. "And I hope to be a part of some team that brings in the next Republican president in 2016 — as long as that person's not me."

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