Democrats won’t be mounting a big political offensive around the Affordable Care Act any time soon, but they’re beginning to test the pro-Obamacare waters.
Heading into the 2014 midterms, Republicans continue to hold a clear advantage in the politics of Obamacare. And even if the tide does ultimately shift for the law, it almost certainly won’t happen by November. Still, there are signs that Democrats are slowly becoming more confident talking about the health care law, or at least parts of it.
“There is a palpable comfort that didn’t exist as recently as six months ago,” said Chris Jennings, who worked on health care strategy in both the Clinton and Obama administrations. “I think we’re in transition, moving from a defense to an achievement strategy.”
If that transition is happening, though, it’s still in its very early phases.
Democratic strategists cautioned against reading too much into the trickle of pro-Obamacare messaging some candidates have embraced. The health care law is finding a place in Democrats’ campaigns often as a byproduct of some other political need, they said, not because of a broader strategic shift within the party.
They downplayed, for example, the recent ad in which Mark Pryor of Arkansas—one of the Senate’s most vulnerable Democrats—highlighted popular provisions of the Affordable Care Act. The ad shows Pryor, appearing alongside his father, discussing his own bout with cancer and saying he “helped pass a law that prevents insurance companies from canceling your policy if you get sick, or deny coverage for preexisting conditions.”
Many liberal pundits were ecstatic about the spot, proclaiming that Democrats finally understood how to win on Obamacare. But Democratic strategists said that wasn’t the most important element; the ad is “very much about Mark telling his personal story,” and not about making a pro-Obamacare argument, said Justin Barasky, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
“This is not a response ad by any means; this is a bio ad, this is an ad about who he is. They would have run this ad regardless of what the politics of ACA are,” a Democratic strategist said.
Similarly, Sen. Kay Hagan has made the law’s Medicaid expansion a key component of her bid for reelection in conservative North Carolina, which has rejected the coverage expansion.
Democrats’ emerging confidence comes as the law is taking a smaller role in Republicans’ attack ads. GOP candidates and allies in a handful of states—including North Carolina—have shifted from an all-Obamacare-all-the-time advertising strategy to one that incorporates Obamacare into a larger message about jobs and the economy.
All those trend lines are pointing in the same direction, but that doesn’t mean Democrats have suddenly won the upper hand on Obamacare.
First of all, it might not work. Pryor and Hagan have both backed into health care: He embraced it as a way to tell a personal story, and Hagan’s focus on Medicaid is one that should resonate with the Democratic base in her state. But there’s still a pretty good chance that Pryor and Hagan—like many of their colleagues who also voted for Obamacare—will lose.
And despite the excitement Pryor’s ad stirred up on the left, Jennings said he doesn’t expect to see a rush of Democrats taking the same tack. Candidates have other issues they’d rather focus on, he said, and there’s “some health care fatigue out there”; after five years of bitter partisan fighting about Obamacare, polls show most people are ready to move on.
The same polls also show that the health care law remains unpopular—and poorly understood.
In the most recent monthly tracking poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation, the law’s favorability rating held steady at 39 percent, while its unfavorable rating rose to an all-time high of 53 percent. The same survey has found that Republicans’ opposition to the law is much more passionate than Democrats’ support for it. And even though the public at large wants Congress to fix the law rather than repeal it, a majority of Republicans said they’d prefer to keep the focus on repeal.
Those attitudes are so entrenched that Democrats may never hold an advantage on Obamacare. But polls also show that voters like many specific elements of the law—which is probably why Pryor didn’t mention it by name when he described one of its central provisions.
In Kaiser’s March poll, the most recent to survey individual components of the law, 70 percent of voters said they approve of a policy requiring insurers to cover people with preexisting conditions. Just 54 percent, though, knew that policy was part of Obamacare. Likewise, in the most recent survey, just 37 percent knew that the law offers consumers a choice among private insurance plans.
That disconnect has dogged Democrats throughout the Obamacare debate, and it helps explain why Republicans’ job is so much easier than Democrats’. But now that the law’s most popular provisions are finally in place, Jennings said, Democrats can start to follow the advice former President Clinton has been offering: Frame the debate around Republican attempts to take away real-life benefits.
“Time is definitely on the side of the ACA. As time goes by, more people benefit.”¦ It isn’t a theoretical discussion any longer,” Jennings said.
What We're Following See More »
"The Democratic National Committee filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit Friday against the Russian government, the Trump campaign and the WikiLeaks organization alleging a far-reaching conspiracy to disrupt the 2016 campaign and tilt the election to Donald Trump. The complaint, filed in federal district court in Manhattan, alleges that top Trump campaign officials conspired with the Russian government and its military spy agency to hurt Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and help Trump by hacking the computer networks of the Democratic Party and disseminating stolen material found there." The DNC is seeking "millions of dollars in compensation to offset damage it claims the party suffered from the hacks," and is arguing the cyberattack" undermined its ability to communicate with voters, collect donations and operate effectively as its employees faced personal harassment and, in some cases, death threats."
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency have fined Wells Fargo $1 billion dollars for convincing customers to buy insurance they did not need, and could not afford. "In October, the bank revealed that some mortgage borrowers were inappropriately charged for missing a deadline to lock in promised interest rates, even though the delays were Wells Fargo's fault." The bank has also apologized for . "charging as many as 570,000 clients for car insurance they didn't need," and found that about 20,000 of those customers "may have defaulted on their car loans and had their vehicles repossessed in part because of those unnecessary insurance costs."
"Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., plans to introduce legislation on Friday to decriminalize marijuana on the federal level, adding a high-profile advocate in the effort to decriminalize, legalize and normalize marijuana use in America." The bill would "remove marijuana from the list of scheduled substances," establish funding sources for businesses and research, and establish regulations akin to those for tobacco and alcohol. "'If smoking marijuana doesn't hurt anybody else, why shouldn't we allow people to do it and not make it criminal?' Schumer told HBO's Vice News in a Thursday interview previewing his bill."
Democrats on the Foreign Relations Committee are considering "refusing to vote to discharge" President Trump's nominee for Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, in order pressure Sen. McConnell to take up a "sense-of-the-Senate resolution" that Special Counsel Mueller should be allowed to continue his investigation. If the Democratic Senators move forward with the plan, Republicans say McConnell "could simply trigger the so-called nuclear option" by declaring the move out-of-order, and bring Pompeo's nomination to the floor through a majority vote. The move is politically risky, as it would likely "heighten partisan tensions and play into President Trump’s arguments that Democrats are actively obstructing him."