September 16, 2013

It continues to go overlooked in the Beltway argument over Obamacare, but one of the most fundamental factors shaping the politics of all of this is that disapproval of the Affordable Care Act does not necessarily translate into support for Republican efforts to undermine or sabotage the law.

Republicans and conservatives constantly justify either their repeated votes to repeal the law, or their threats of destructive confrontations to defund or delay it, by citing public dissatisfaction with it as proof the public supports their efforts. Yet there’s little to no polling evidence to suggest one translates into support for the other. Indeed, there’s evidence the opposite is true.

Today’s new Pew Research poll again drives this home with striking clarity. It finds 53 percent of Americans disapprove of the Affordable Care Act, versus only 42 percent who approve. This mirrors a new NBC/WSJ poll finding pluralities think the law is a bad idea and will be more damaging than not. No question: Obamacare polls terribly.

But the Pew poll finds something else that’s just as important: There’s virtually no public support for efforts to undermine the law:

The 53% of the public who disapprove of the law are divided over what they would like elected officials who oppose the law to do now that the law has begun to take effect. About half of disapprovers (27% of the public overall) say these lawmakers “should do what they can to make the law work as well as possible,” but nearly as many (23% of the public) say these officials “should do what they can to make the law fail.”

Even a large bloc of Republicans opposes undermining the law:

Fewer than half of all Republicans and Republican leaners (43%) want elected officials who oppose the law to do what they can to make it fail; 37% say they should try to make it work as well as possible. However, 64% of Tea Party Republicans oppose the law and want elected officials to do what they can to make it fail. By comparison, just 31% of Republicans and Republican leaners who do not agree with the Tea Party favor this approach.

There you have it. Fewer than one in four Americans supports efforts to try to make the law fail. Fewer than half of Republicans back such efforts; support for them is largely driven by Tea Party Republicans.

Yet it is this small minority that is largely shaping the contours of the GOP posture heading into this fall’s fiscal fights. The more “moderate” and “reasonable” Republican position — the one held by GOP leaders — is that there should be no government shutdown to defund Obamacare; that an effort to delay Obamacare should be tied somehow to the debt limit fight; and that Republicans should keep working to repeal the law. Yet even this position represents an effort to placate a small minority of the American people. Republicans are caught in a struggle between two arguments that both are designed, to varying degrees, to minister to this small minority’s obsession.

Meanwhile, large majorities overall either support the law or oppose it but want lawmakers to try to make it work. Simply put, the zeal to prevent the law from functioning as well as possible is well outside the American mainstream. To some degree this mirrors the situation within the House of Representatives itself. A majority of Members would vote tomorrow to fund the government without any defund-Obamacare rider attached, or to raise the debt limit without any Obamacare delay attached. But because House GOP leaders are loathe to allow a vote on anything unless a majority of House Republicans approves of it, the result is that — if today’s Pew poll has it right — the delusional preoccupations of a small minority of the American people are having an outsized impact on, well, our entire political situation, with potential economic chaos looming as a result.

* WHY LARRY SUMMERS PULLED OUT: As you’ve heard, Larry Summers has lent a letter to the President yanking his name from the battle to head the Fed. Sources close to Summers say he concluded he couldn’t win confirmation, given opposition that had built among Senate liberals. Senate Dem leaders had privately pledged to do all they could to get Summers through, but opposition had only grown over time, the opposite of what the White House had hoped would happen in postponing a decision until the fall.

A Summers nomination would have provoked an epic public fight with progressive Senate Dems, at exactly the moment when Dem unity will be needed to defend Democratic priorities heading into this fall’s fiscal wars.

* PROGRESSIVES WILL KEEP UP PUSH FOR YELLEN: Ben White reports that progressives will continue rallying behind Janet Yellen for the Fed post, and that market watchers believe picking her would mean marginally more stimulus. The question now is whether Obama will opt for someone other than Yellen, since it’s well known the White House doesn’t like being pushed into decisions like these.

* WHY YELLEN MAY NOT GET THE GIG: The New York Times explains it:

Some of the president’s advisers argue that the Fed needs an outsider to shake up its thinking as it begins to retreat from its stimulus efforts. Some officials within the administration have expressed irritation for some time at what they see as a campaign by Ms. Yellen or at least on her behalf that unfairly maligned Mr. Summers. That irritation is a sign of her lack of strong standing at the White House.

But Yellen has an established track record that includes Fed experience and a legacy of accurate forecasts on growth, jobs and inflation. As Paul Krugman puts it, “nobody else is as qualified” and picking someone else would smack of “spite.”

* WHY OBAMA SHOULD APPOINT YELLEN: Ezra Klein gives us five reasons why the President should pick her, adn gets this exactly right:

The line from the White House has never been that Yellen is bad choice. In fact, they’ve been at pains to say she’s absolutely terrific — an incredible candidate who they’d be thrilled to name if there wasn’t, remarkably, an even more incredible candidate in Summers. As for the idea that it would be bad “optics” to shatter a glass ceiling and appoint the insanely qualified, widely respected, Vice Chair of the Federal Reserve — that’s the kind of Washington nuttiness this White House typically prides itself in being above. To deny Yellen the post out of spite or fear would be, or at least should be, beneath them.

* SUMMERS DEFEAT PORTENDS LEFTWARD SHIFT FOR DEMS: Peter Beinart offers an interesting take on the meaning of Senate Dem opposition to Summers:

The main reason Summers dropped out is that he became identified with deregulatory policies that were far more tolerated inside the Democratic Party in 1999 — or even 2009 — than they are today…The Democratic rebellion against Summers, like the Democratic rebellion against military action in Syria, bespeaks a deep frustration that party elites still share the economic and foreign policy assumptions that helped cause the disasters of the last decade.

That’s also a useful prism through which to look at how Obama handles the rest of this battle and his eventual choice for the gig.

* GOP LAWMAKERS OFFER QUALIFIED SUPPORT ON SYRIA: This is welcome: Some GOP lawmakers are now offering qualified support for the deal reached at the United Nations to secure Syria’s chemical weapons. Here’s Senator Bob Corker: “It’s hard for anybody to pooh-pooh the idea that we may be on the way to a diplomatic solution.”

And Senator Ron Johnson: “If he succeeds with this framework, people have to give him credit.” I noted last week that those criticizing Obama on process have refused to say whether they support his actual choices. So this is good.to see.

* MORE BREATHING ROOM FOR DEMS IN SENATE FIGHT? Related to the above: The Hill reports that the crowd of GOP challengers vying to unseat Kay Hagan could make their quest that much harder. A similar dynamic is unfolding in Alaska that could imperil the chances of defeating Senator Mark Begich, but Republicans need to defeat three Dem incumbents — or four if Republicans lose in Georgia or Kentucky — to take back the Senate.

* WHAT THE COLORADO RECALLS REALLY MEAN: A terrific column from E.J. Dionne on how the losses in the Colorado recalls reveal areas where the left needs to up its game when it comes to understanding the deeper meanings of the fight over gun safety.

I continue to wonder whether pundits will see broad significance in it if Senators Kay Hagan and Mary Landrieu are reelected in red states after voting Yes on Manchin-Toomey. That said, as skeptical as one should be of the “larger meaning” of isolated electoral outcomes, Dionne is right about the gun safety movement’s need for a larger argument.

What else?

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.