The man in charge of the House Democrats political committee acknowledged Wednesday that — for now — the national political environment favors Republicans, but he said he's hopeful that the Affordable Care Act's improving fortunes and the GOP agenda can brighten his party's outlook by November.
"I'll stipulate it's a tough climate for us right now," said Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, speaking during a press conference at the National Press Club. "It's a tough climate."
Obamacare's haphazard implementation and President Obama's sinking approval ratings have combined to produce an uninviting environment for the party, in a midterm year in which the electorate naturally skews Republican. House Democrats are not expected to seriously challenge for control of the House majority — they would need to win a net of 17 seats — and Israel declined to predict that his party would do so.
But the New York Democrat said the climate can change quickly, joking that during October's government shutdown, analysts had predicted that Democrats might retake the House.
"I remember during shutdown, some were suggesting we not only could win the House, but we could win 50 seats," said Israel. "I never believed that for a minute. Three weeks later, after the roll out of a website, some of the same people saying we would win 50 seats were saying we'd lose 50 seats."
He added, "Our job is not to worry about the climate, because we have no control over the generic climate, we have to worry about what's in our control and master what's in our control."
Coinciding with the release of Rep. Paul Ryan's budget this week, House Democrats are aggressively pushing the notion that the proposal, which would cut spending and eventually set up a optional voucher system for future Medicare beneficiaries, will cripple Republicans with middle-class voters. And he argued that with Obamacare reaching its sign-up goal this week, voters will be even less enthusiastic about repealing the law.
"We're going on offense for what repeal means for the middle class," Israel said.
In a statement, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee said Democrats have promised Ryan's budget would be a winning issue in previous elections.
"In 2012 - with President Obama on the ballot - Steve Israel called Paul Ryan the Democrats' 'majority maker,' yet his party didn't even come close," said Andrea Bozek, NRCC spokeswoman. "We hope Democrats keep running on their support of ObamaCare's drastic cuts to Medicare, opposition to a balanced budget, and support for an unpopular President."