GOP Strategy on Obamacare: Shut Up and Leave Town

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 23: U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) (C) leaves a Republican leadership press conference October 23, 2013 in Washington, DC. Sixty three percent of respondents in a recent poll indicated that they believe that Boehner should be replaced as the Speaker of the House following the conclusion of the recent government funding and debt limit impasse.
National Journal
Tim Alberta and Billy House
Nov. 3, 2013, 7:29 a.m.

“When your op­pon­ent is com­mit­ting sui­cide, don’t shoot him.” That’s ad­vice Speak­er John Boehner fre­quently of­fers to House Re­pub­lic­ans, and it ap­pears es­pe­cially timely in the GOP battle to de­feat Obama­care.

Amid the drip-drip-drip of prob­lems sur­round­ing the Af­ford­able Care Act, House Re­pub­lic­ans ap­pear to be ser­i­ously con­sid­er­ing the no­tion that the best course may be to pipe down and al­low Obama­care sup­port­ers to con­tin­ue bleed­ing.

“To put it in con­text, we should just try to get out of our own damn way for now,” said one House GOP lead­er­ship aide.

House mem­bers left Wash­ing­ton on Thursday and are out this week, giv­ing law­makers ex­ten­ded time in their dis­tricts for con­stitu­ent ser­vices. The tim­ing is per­fect for House Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers, who have grown wary of dis­tract­ing the pub­lic from Obama­care’s wobbly rol­lout with GOP at­tacks on the law.

The strategy is a stark con­trast to the bom­bast­ic tone Re­pub­lic­ans struck fight­ing the law to the point of a gov­ern­ment shut­down, and then bey­ond. And, ac­cord­ing to some law­makers, there was dis­cus­sion among House mem­bers about can­cel­ling the break and stay­ing in Wash­ing­ton to con­tin­ue ham­mer­ing the health care law.

But House lead­ers dis­missed that idea, feel­ing con­fid­ent that the best thing they can do is step back, be quiet, and let Amer­ic­ans watch Obama­care’s sup­port­ers con­tend with a faulty web­site, rising premi­ums, and an ava­lanche of policy can­cel­la­tions.

Es­sen­tially, top Re­pub­lic­ans be­lieve the neg­at­ive head­lines sur­round­ing the law are do­ing more dam­age to the Obama­care brand than any hear­ing they can con­duct or press con­fer­ence they can stage. The prob­lems speak for them­selves, they ar­gue, and Re­pub­lic­ans risk over­play­ing their hand with vo­cal cri­ti­cism.

Of course, plenty of Re­pub­lic­ans were mak­ing this case even be­fore the Oct. 1 rol­lout, ar­guing that the Af­ford­able Care Act was in for an ugly in­tro­duc­tion. Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell, R-Ky., seemed to em­brace that think­ing as far back as Sept. 24, in a col­loquy on the Sen­ate floor.

“I think this law has no chance of work­ing,” Mc­Con­nell said, adding that, “I think it is pretty safe to con­clude that things that can’t work don’t stick, and don’t last.”

Still, not all Re­pub­lic­ans are on board with the hands-off ap­proach.

For in­stance, Rep. Dar­rell Issa, R-Cal­if., chair­man of the House Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form Com­mit­tee, has sub­poenaed Health and Hu­man Ser­vices doc­u­ments re­gard­ing the Health­Care.gov rol­lout. Mean­while, oth­er com­mit­tee chair­men have prom­ised to con­tin­ue hold­ing in­vest­ig­at­ive hear­ings in­to vari­ous as­pects of the health care law. HHS Sec­ret­ary Kath­leen Se­beli­us is headed back to Cap­it­ol Hill to testi­fy in the Sen­ate this week.

Moreover, aides ex­pect the anti-Obama­care ac­tion to in­tensi­fy at the loc­al level. Sev­er­al Re­pub­lic­an law­makers are plan­ning town-hall meet­ings spe­cific­ally geared to­ward spot­light­ing the law’s im­pact on in­di­vidu­als and fam­il­ies. Oth­ers will be meet­ing with con­stitu­ents to doc­u­ment their struggles with Obama­care, and will turn those stor­ies in­to Web videos, fun­drais­ing let­ters, or TV ad­vert­ise­ments.

House lead­er­ship made avail­able to mem­bers a talk­ing-point “play­book” to use dur­ing the re­cess en­titled, “Be­cause of Obama­care “¦ I Lost My In­sur­ance.” It is chock-full of sug­ges­ted and scrip­ted themes and me­dia strategies on how to cap­it­al­ize polit­ic­ally from the Health­Care.gov web­site prob­lems and the news of policy can­cel­la­tions.

That may not bode well for the “don’t shoot” strategy. When law­makers re­turn from their dis­tricts on Nov. 12, they are likely to be loaded with am­muni­tion.

But the fact is that some con­ser­vat­ives have been say­ing for weeks that the best strategy may be a quiet one.

“As un­happy as Amer­ic­ans are now at the pro­spect of Obama­care,” wrote Linda Chavez, a con­ser­vat­ive com­ment­at­or, weeks ago, “just wait un­til they have to live un­der it. Even Demo­crats will be push­ing to re­write the law once their con­stitu­ents feel its full ef­fects. Pa­tience will pay off for the GOP.”

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