October 23, 2013

It’s heart-warming to see Republicans so worried about the difficulties the uninsured are facing in getting health care coverage.

Republicans continue attacking Obamacare’s rollout today, with a focus on the difficulties people face signing on to the exchanges. The problems with Obamacare are awful and unforgivable. As Jonathan Cohn notes, the next few weeks are critical, and it’s possible the law’s overall success is in peril, though health reform is larger than its web site, and there are reasons for some optimism about its long term prospects.

Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who is facing scalding criticism, is claiming this morning that Obama had no prior knowledge of the problems. Okay, but there must be real accountability and transparency into what’s going wrong.

Still, folks shouldn’t sugar-coat the true nature of the GOP position here. House Republicans have rolled out a video mocking the unhelpfulness of HealthCare.Gov’s customer service:

Republicans have also set up a web page where people can share their own bad experiences of the law.

In a way, this perfectly captures what the larger debate is all about. This expression of sympathy with would-be health insurance customers is particularly amusing, given that some Republicans have openly said they will not help their own constituents with the law. Meanwhile, the GOP position is to get rid of the law entirely and replace it with nothing in the way of significant reform, which would be far worse for those who stand to benefit from it than the current problems they face.

The House GOP rolled out its own health care solutions this fall. But they probably wouldn’t come anywhere near covering the number of uninsured Obamacare is designed to cover. At any rate, there is no way House Republicans could ever pass anything that has a chance of becoming law, let alone anything that is up to the scale of the health care challenges we face.  Bottom line: Republicans just don’t envision the federal government playing an ambitious oversight role in regulating the health system — or spending the money necessary – in service of the goal of expanding coverage to tens of millions of uninsured.

But Republicans are going further than just arguing their position. They are actively trying to prevent people from enjoying the benefits of the law, to try to make it fail. As Ron Fournier notes, while there are serious questions about the failures of the Obaamcare rollout, that doesn’t diminish the fact that multiple GOP governors, by opting out of the Medicaid expansion for purely political reasons, are acting against the interests of millions of their own constituents. The GOP’s commitment to full repeal has led it to refuse to participate in bipartisan fixes that even GOP-aligned constituencies want. Republicans’ current criticism of the law’s rollout is also of a piece with this larger stance. As Brian Beutler observes:

If you’re a reporter or a news junkie or a constituent, you should be absolutely clear that these people don’t want Healthcare.gov to work and are making wild, unsupportable claims to discourage people from becoming insured.

We can keep two ideas in our heads at the same time. The first: Obamacare’s rollout is awful and demands accountability. The second: GOP criticism of the rollout is deeply incoherent and indicative of a larger refusal — one that has gone on for years — to participate seriously in the basic governing necessary to solve this pressing national problem.

* OBAMACARE APPROVAL INCHES UP: Gallup finds:

Despite the highly publicized technical issues that have plagued the government’s health insurance exchange website that went live on Oct. 1, Americans’ views of the Affordable Care Act are slightly more positive now than they were in August. Forty-five percent now approve of the law, while 50% disapprove, for a net approval score of -5. In June and August, net approval was slightly lower, at -8.

Disapproval of Obamacare remains very real. But I’m going to stick to my insistence that the GOP celebration of the law’s rollout problems — and the continuing call for repeal — represent a misreading of the nuances on public opinion on health reform.

* GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN BECOMES ISSUE IN SENATE RACES: Dem Senator Mark Pryor has unveiled a very tough TV ad attacking his challenger, GOP Rep. Tom Cotton, for supporting the government shutdown and voting against raising the debt limit. The ad rips Cotton’s actions as “reckless” and “irresponsible,” in keeping with the Dem belief that the 2014 elections will be about the degree to which the GOP has tarred itself as incapable of basic governing.

The larger story here is that House Republicans running in multiple Senate races took the hard line position in the shutdown and default fights — which Dems will seize on to paint them as too extreme to win a general election.

* SHUTDOWN TAKES TOLL ON HOUSE GOP MAJORITY: Yesterday’s WaPo/ABC poll found Dems now lead by eight points in the generic House ballot matchup. Sean Sullivan digs deeper into the numbers and comes up with this great stuff:

It’s not just the topline national numbers (which are not perfect predictors) that should worry Republicans. It’s what’s going on in Republican-held districts that should turn more heads. Republicans hold an 8-point lead in districts they control, compared to Democrats’ 30-point lead in their districts. An 8-point lead might not seem all that bad. But consider that we’re talking about all GOP districts here, the vast majority of which are very conservative and not at any risk of switching control.  What that means is that in the swing GOP seats that will decide who wins the majority, the Republican advantage is probably smaller, if it even exists.

The question, it seems, is whether enough GOP-held districts will slip into truly contested status for Dems to have a shot at taking back the House. Given that the current political climate is sure to dissipate, this might require more crises in 2014.

* AXELROD DEMANDS ACCOUNTABILITY FOR OBAMACARE’S PROBLEMS: Former White House senior advisor David Axelrod sends a clear message:

““They need to be forthcoming with the public and report on a regular basis as to  the progress that’s being made…I also would be very, very tough on the people who are responsible to get those fixes done quickly,” Axelrod said. “I’d be, as I’m sure they are, kicking a  bunch of folks in the butt every day to make sure that what needs to be done is  being done.”

Absolutely right.

* IN BUDGET TALKS, ALL EYES ON PAUL RYAN: The Hill reports that people on both sides hoping for a deal in this fall’s budget talks are looking to Paul Ryan as a possible deal-maker. This suggests, as always, that Ryan will be accorded the title of Very Serious Person in the coming talks.

This, even though his own fiscal blueprint has essentially persuaded his whole party to adopt deeply unhinged expectations for the downsizing of government that are an impediment to any actual compromise.

* AND DEMS LEADING IN VIRGINIA: A new Quinnipiac poll finds Dem Terry McAuliffe leading GOPer Ken Cuccinelli by 46-39. Notably, McAuliffe leads among women by 14 points, in a race partly about the Republican’s stance on women’s health issues. It’s another sign of the Dems’ increasing reliance on social issues to appeal to the new Dem “coalition of the ascendant,” including white collar women, even if it risks losing the culturally conservative downscale whites that Dems have historically been wary of alienating.

The Real Clear Politics average puts McAuliffe up by nearly 10 points.

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.