October 24, 2013
House Speaker John Boehner (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
House Speaker John Boehner (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Multiple reports this morning tell us that House Republicans – chastened from their political drubbing during the last crisis, which was all about Obamacare – are now hoping to put that behind them by launching a series of coordinated, seemingly serious House investigations into what has gone wrong with Obamacare.

Interestingly, Republicans believe the new push will get the public to forget GOP excesses during the last battle — even though both revolve around the party’s central organizing point, i.e., the drive to destroy the Affordable Care Act before it’s too late. As the Washington Examiner’s David Drucker put it: “House GOP leaders are looking to revive their majority’s political strength by focusing on the nuts and bolts of legislating, a policy agenda centered on jobs and economic growth — and concerted oversight of Obamacare, a law still unpopular with many Americans.”

And so, with Obamacare’s problems likely to continue, we’re headed for a protracted political struggle over them, with potentially high political stakes for 2014 and for the success of the most important domestic initiative of the Obama presidency.

Snarky headlines aside, let’s be clear: Serious Congressional oversight would be absolutely welcome here. The question is, are House Republicans capable of supplying it? Obamacare’s problems are inexcusable, and there should be accountability for them. There are real and legitimate problems here that could be exposed.

But when it comes to supplying genuine oversight, previous House GOP probes — into Benghazi and the IRS scandal – devolved into circus stunts. Those investigations got knocked off kilter by lurid and fanciful charges that seemed directed at a hard right audience that remains firmly in the grip of the conservative closed information feedback loop.

Given the alternate-reality version of Obamacare that continues to reverberate inside that loop — and given that House GOP leaders have let the base set the agenda on the party’s overall stance on the law, often to disastrous effect – it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect that these probes will be all about playing to that same audience. Plus, Republicans are already signaling they plan to use Obamacare’s problems as political fodder in 2014. If the result is another circus — and more evidence that the party’s Obamacare obsession has rendered it essentially a non-functional opposition — let’s hope the press holds Republicans accountable for it.

* GOP TO WIELD OBAMACARE AGAINST DEMS IN 2014: Related to the above: The New York Times has a big story reporting on the coming House GOP investigations. They are explicitly seeking to capitalize on them in the 2014 elections:

“If the Web site glitches are just the tip of the iceberg,” said Representative Greg Walden of Oregon, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, “it’s only a matter of time before the law sinks and takes with it those Democrats who wrote it, voted for it and are proud of it.”

How about some context here, folks? Obviously the situation is somewhat different this time than in 2012 — implementation is underway and there are horrible problems — but Republicans did spend untold millions attacking Dems over the law last cycle, only to lose badly. To reiterate: In response, Dems should stick to a “keep and fix” message.

* BUT SOME REPUBLICANS THINK IT’S TIME TO MOVE ON: Also from the Times story:

“In terms of what we do over the next few months here,” said Representative Tom Rooney, Republican of Florida, “I’m hoping it revolves around what Paul Ryan and Patty Murray are doing to address the debt. I think we need to do what realistically and tactically we can accomplish.”

But you see, there are no limits to what can be accomplished against Obamacare, if only the “GOP establishment” shows the spine to see the struggle through until the end.

* DEMS PUSH BACK ON GOP OBAMACARE HEARINGS: The White House allied Bridge Project is out with a new report detailing that some of the same House Republicans who will undertake the coming Obamacare hearings previously said, during implementation of Medicare Part D, that problems come with the territory. Yes, it turns out major reforms are hard.

* ON OBAMACARE FAILURES, BUCK STOPS WITH OBAMA: Norm Ornstein heaps scalding criticism on the President over the rocky rollout of the health care law, arguing it reveals a larger failure on his part to staff the White House properly. However, Ornstein argues that the idea that large government health care systems are inherently flawed is

an obviously false conclusion given that the health care systems in France, Canada, the Netherlands. and, yes, Great Britain work smoothly and are immensely popular, and that in several states running their own exchanges, the implementation has been quite smooth.

And so, the buck stops with Obama.

* WHO SHOULD BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE? The Associated Press reports that the principle contractor who built the problem-plagued Obamacare website is pointing a finger at the Obama administration, arguing that it bears some of the blame for what went wrong. The AP reports that one Dems wants Obama to “man up” and fire someone.

Whatever the truth here, the difficulty resides in the question of who should be fired — and how contractors should be held accountable for whatever role they played. But again, in the end, the Obama administration must take the blame, as it has already done publicly.

* DEMS NOW FAVORED TO RETAIN SENATE: Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball sifts through the wreckage after the shutdown debacle and concludes that Democrats are likely to hold on to the Senate. The key factors are that a chaotic GOP primary in Georgia is likely to result in a hyper-conservative nominee, placing the seat within reach of Dems, and that two vulnerable Dem incumbents — Kay Hagan and Mary Landrieu — are favored to hold on.

If Hagan and Landrieu (who both voted for Manchin-Toomey) do get reelected, I look forward to the reams of Beltway analysis concluding that Dems can vote for gun control without paying a major political price for it.

* GOP DONORS PRESSURE PARTY ON IMMIGRATION: A good story from the Wall Street Journal:

Some big-money Republican donors, frustrated by their party’s handling of the standoff over the debt ceiling and government shutdown, are stepping up their warnings to GOP leaders that they risk long-term damage to the party if they fail to pass immigration legislation.

Some donors say they are withholding political contributions from members of Congress who don’t support action on immigration, and many are calling top House leaders. Their hope is that the party can gain ground with Hispanic voters, make needed changes in immigration policy and offset some of the damage that polls show it is taking for the shutdown.

I’d only add that with polls suggesting the middle of the country no longer thinks the GOP is capable of constructive governing, immigration reform is one of the few remaining ways to change these perceptions.

* IMMIGRATION REFORM IS STILL NOT QUITE DEAD: The New Democrat Network has a good roundup of recent news articles that captures the real state of play among House Republicans on immigration, Key quote from Speaker John Boehner:

“I still think that immigration reform is an important subject that needs to be addressed and I am hopeful.”

It seems obvious GOP leaders do want to find a way to reform. There are several ways House Republicans can get to conference without voting for the dreaded path to citizenship, so this can happen if leaders allow it to. This needn’t be a matter of “hope,” as Boehner puts it.

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.