Thanks to Obamacare, Now Republicans Are the Ones Who Feel Your Pain

They struggled to connect with voters during the years they warned about the law. Now that it took effect, they’re finally getting somewhere.

Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL) delivers remarks during a news conference with fellow House Republicans at the Republican Party Headquarters on Capitol Hill February 13, 2013.
National Journal
Marin Cogan
Nov. 14, 2013, 9:08 a.m.

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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.”

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