Martha Roby stepped up to a podium on the House floor this morning with an easel and a poster-sized collage of smiling men, women, and children. The photos called to mind the one used to illustrate the Affordable Care Act site, but Roby was touting a website of her own, where she’d invited constituents from Alabama’s second district to share their stories of receiving cancellation notices under the new healthcare law.
She quoted a homeschooling mother of four whose family premiums had risen from $420 a month to $940 a month: “We are already under great financial strain and this is not helping relieve any of the tension. At this point we are unsure about what we’re going to do. With four growing children we know insurance is vital, but at what cost to the daily needs of our family? We are very disappointed in the Obama administration.” She spoke of a man who says he spent six hours on the phone in search of a more affordable plan. She mentioned another who said his doctor dropped him thanks to the law.
Roby alternated tones of concern, indignation and compassion. “I don’t know why the president repeatedly mislead people about true implications of the health care law,” she said, but “it is hurting people in a very real way.”
Not every House member can message as well as Roby. But compare her House floor speech this morning to Obama’s comments this afternoon announcing a plan to help people keep their insurance policies through 2014 (“I completely get how upsetting this can be for a lot of Americans, particularly after assurances they heard from me that if they had a plan that they liked they could keep it”), and it’s obvious why House Republicans are feeling like they have their groove back.
Even in 2010, when they capitalized on voter outrage over the newly passed law to take back the House, they were warning about things that hadn’t happened yet. Back then, says a campaign manager who helped one of the Republican members knock off a Democrat in 2010 and is now gunning for another Democratic seat in 2014, “it was all a theoretical problem that future-Joe Voter was going to have to deal with, so human nature being what it is, most people decided to just worry about it later. Now if you didn’t get a cancellation notice in the mail you at least know someone who did. If you didn’t have trouble logging onto the website you at least know someone who did. It got real in a hurry.”
Opportunities like the ones Republicans have now to reconnect with voters in their right-leaning districts have to help members like Roby, whose first terms were beset by attacks from conservative activists who felt they weren’t ideologically pure enough. The question will be whether they can keep focused on capitalizing on the botched rollout without resorting to self-defeating tactics. “The only way it could have worked out better for us,” the campaign manager says, “is if we had another 17 days in October to talk about it instead of talking about a shutdown.”