Are Republicans Handing the Obamacare Advantage to Dems?

Americans don’t like the program, but they like the GOP approach to killing it even less.

From left to right: Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT), Assistant House Minority Leader Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) and House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) listen during a news conference on Capitol Hill.
National Journal
Alex Roarty
Oct. 2, 2013, 9:57 a.m.

How can Demo­crats win next year’s elec­tion fight over Obama­care? Just lean back and let Re­pub­lic­ans work their ma­gic.

The GOP’s un­waver­ing de­mand that Pres­id­ent Obama delay and dis­mantle the Af­ford­able Care Act has been the hall­mark of Re­pub­lic­an op­pos­i­tion to the law since its pas­sage in 2010, an un­re­lent­ing fo­cus that has paved the way for the cur­rent gov­ern­ment shut­down. But the ap­proach has left little room for polit­ic­al nu­ance, mak­ing the party look in­flex­ible about im­prov­ing a law that is tak­ing ef­fect while they lament its ex­ist­ence.

Demo­crat­ic strategists think that ap­proach cre­ates an open­ing with voters who, while skep­tic­al of the Af­ford­able Care Act, are far less in­ter­ested in de­fund­ing it than mak­ing sure it works. So rather than fret about the polit­ic­al lumps they’re about to take, Demo­crat­ic op­er­at­ives see a chance for vic­tory.

“The old rhet­or­ic of ‘re­peal and re­place’ has been more and less ex­posed to be a sham,” said J.J. Bal­aban, a Phil­adelphia-based Demo­crat­ic strategist. “Now it’s ‘re­peal and re­peal.’

“The Re­pub­lic­ans have been so in­flex­ible that they’ve made it harder to press their ad­vant­age on the is­sue,” he ad­ded. “Demo­crats have clearly be­ne­fit­ted from that.”

Such op­tim­ism seems bold, even silly, for a law whose pop­ular­ity has sunk to new lows this sum­mer. In every re­cent sur­vey, more people are against it than for it, and in most cases the dif­fer­ence is sig­ni­fic­ant. An NBC/Wall Street Journ­al sur­vey last month re­por­ted only 31 per­cent of people favored the law ““ 44 per­cent didn’t. Throw in a de­luge of head­lines about busi­nesses cut­ting their health care and blam­ing Obama­care ““ evid­ence Re­pub­lic­ans say of the loom­ing im­ple­ment­a­tion dis­aster — and it’s easy to un­der­stand why GOP mem­bers say they’re giddy about re-lit­ig­at­ing the is­sue in 2014.

But those aren’t the num­bers or head­lines Demo­crats are pay­ing at­ten­tion to. Rather, with the law tak­ing ef­fect, they think the polit­ics have shif­ted from an ideo­lo­gic­al ar­gu­ment to one about which party is try­ing to make it work.

In ef­fect, while people don’t like Obama­care, they like the Re­pub­lic­an ap­proach to it now even less.

Polls bol­ster their point. A re­cent sur­vey from CBS News and the New York Times found 56 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans wanted Con­gress to up­hold the ACA and make it work as well as pos­sible, while only 38 per­cent wanted Con­gress to cut off fund­ing to it. An in­tern­al sur­vey from the Demo­crat­ic Con­gres­sion­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee of 68 com­pet­it­ive House dis­tricts found sim­il­ar res­ults: 55 per­cent of voters there wanted to im­ple­ment Obama­care ef­fect­ively; only 40 per­cent want to re­peal it out­right. (The Demo­crat­ic polling firm Gar­in-Hart-Yang Re­search Group con­duc­ted the sur­vey in Ju­ly.)

The pub­lic’s de­sire to im­prove the law had led Demo­crat­ic lead­ers to urge their mem­bers to take a prag­mat­ic ap­proach with voters. What mat­ters is mak­ing sure the law works as well as pos­sible, they ar­gue, not wheth­er it should have been passed in the first place.

“If you go back home and re-lit­ig­ate the ideo­lo­gic­al war on the Af­ford­able Care Act, you lose,” Steve Is­rael, chair­man of the DCCC, said re­cently. “If you back home and set up an Af­ford­able Care Act im­ple­ment­a­tion task force and you put people in a room and you say, ‘OK, I want to solve these dif­fi­culties one by one, and I want to be a prob­lem solv­er and not an ideo­lo­gic­al war­ri­or,’ you win.”

Win­ning Obama­care polit­ics would be a first for Demo­crats. In 2010, the law gal­van­ized Re­pub­lic­ans as Demo­crats lost sev­en seats in the Sen­ate (one in a spe­cial elec­tion, six on Elec­tion Day) and their ma­jor­ity in the House. Its po­tency faded last year, but Re­pub­lic­ans ar­gue, con­vin­cingly, that high­light­ing the law’s Medi­care cuts helped them re­but Demo­crat­ic charges the GOP wanted to “end Medi­care as we know it.”

Some Demo­crats think Obama­care, after be­ing a sub­ject of in­tense de­bate the last two elec­tions, won’t re­main a top is­sue in 2014. Oth­ers fig­ure that, at the very least, it can’t get any worse for the party.

“We already hit rock bot­tom in 2010 and lost every­one we were go­ing to lose on health care, and now we’ll start win­ning people back,” said one Demo­crat­ic strategist.

And still oth­ers con­tend that the Holy Grail of Obama­care polit­ics might yet come to pass: After fi­nally see­ing the be­ne­fits of mil­lions re­ceiv­ing ac­cess to health in­sur­ance, the pub­lic could sud­denly sup­port the law.

“The more people ex­per­i­ence the Af­ford­able Care Act and the be­ne­fits of choice of af­ford­able health care cov­er­age, the bet­ter,” said John Lapp, a Demo­crat­ic strategist. “[It gets them] bey­ond the bo­gey­man scare tac­tics.”

Of course, there’s a flip side to that ar­gu­ment: The law’s im­ple­ment­a­tion turns in­to a night­mare. At that point, no amount of mes­saging might be enough to save the party from pun­ish­ment dur­ing the 2014 elec­tion. After Tues­day’s prob­lem-filled un­veil­ing the state-based ex­change Web sites — in which many of the mil­lions who re­portedly signed up were greeted with an er­ror mes­sage — Re­pub­lic­ans are con­fid­ent their long-held pre­dic­tions of Obama­care dooms­day are fi­nally com­ing to pass.

“The Demo­crats have con­sist­ently en­gaged in ma­gic­al think­ing about Obama­care,” said Rick Wilson, a Re­pub­lic­an strategist. “They ex­pec­ted polit­ic­al be­ne­fits from it since its pas­sage, and they keep ex­pect­ing some kind of mar­velous trans­form­at­ive mo­ment where people say, ‘Pay­ing more for crap­pi­er health care? Sign me up!’ “

He ad­ded, “No large gov­ern­ment so­cial en­gin­eer­ing pro­gram has ever been rolled out in the so­cial me­dia era, and the power of an­ec­dot­al hor­ror stor­ies — and there will be count­less screwups — will leave a lot more Demo­crats than you think hid­ing in the tall grass.”

What We're Following See More »
PROCEDURES NOT FOLLOWED
Trump Not on Ballot in Minnesota
2 days ago
THE LATEST
MOB RULE?
Trump on Immigration: ‘I Don’t Know, You Tell Me’
2 days ago
THE LATEST

Perhaps Donald Trump can take a plebiscite to solve this whole messy immigration thing. At a Fox News town hall with Sean Hannity last night, Trump essentially admitted he's "stumped," turning to the audience and asking: “Can we go through a process or do you think they have to get out? Tell me, I mean, I don’t know, you tell me.”

Source:
BIG CHANGE FROM WHEN HE SELF-FINANCED
Trump Enriching His Businesses with Donor Money
4 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Donald Trump "nearly quintupled the monthly rent his presidential campaign pays for its headquarters at Trump Tower to $169,758 in July, when he was raising funds from donors, compared with March, when he was self-funding his campaign." A campaign spokesman "said the increased office space was needed to accommodate an anticipated increase in employees," but the campaign's paid staff has actually dipped by about 25 since March. The campaign has also paid his golf courses and restaurants about $260,000 since mid-May.

Source:
QUESTIONS OVER IMMIGRATION POLICY
Trump Cancels Rallies
4 days ago
THE LATEST

Donald Trump probably isn't taking seriously John Oliver's suggestion that he quit the race. But he has canceled or rescheduled rallies amid questions over his stance on immigration. Trump rescheduled a speech on the topic that he was set to give later this week. Plus, he's also nixed planned rallies in Oregon and Las Vegas this month.

Source:
‘STRATEGY AND MESSAGING’
Sean Hannity Is Also Advising Trump
5 days ago
THE LATEST

Donald Trump's Fox News brain trust keeps growing. After it was revealed that former Fox chief Roger Ailes is informally advising Trump on debate preparation, host Sean Hannity admitted over the weekend that he's also advising Trump on "strategy and messaging." He told the New York Times: “I’m not hiding the fact that I want Donald Trump to be the next president of the United States. I never claimed to be a journalist.”

Source:
×