November 18, 2013
Barack Obama (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Barack Obama (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

This week, Republicans will continue to hammer away at Obamacare’s rollout problems, and with Democrats continuing to grapple with the political fallout from the fiasco, any Dem disarray will only reinforce the view among Republicans that they have a certain long term political winner on their hands.

Indeed, other issues — budget talks, tax reform, immigration — should be on the agenda now, but Republicans reportedly don’t believe there’s any reason to allow them to get in the way of their ongoing Obamacare triumph. The Wall Street Journal explains their thinking this way:

Prospects already were dim for substantial legislation in the dwindling days of 2013, but the headline-grabbing fights over the federal health exchange and canceled insurance policies have given House Republicans no incentive to change the subject. The issue has drowned out talk of an immigration overhaul, taken the focus off high-stakes budget talks and stalled efforts to rewrite the tax code. [...]

In recent days, House GOP leaders signaled they are taking a go-slow approach on a tax-code overhaul. GOP aides said the bill could become an unwelcome distraction for Republicans, drawing public attention away from the health-law imbroglio.

Remember, tax reform is one of the key issues where Republicans really appear serious about making policy, which would show they have not devolved into a “post policy” party. Yet even that is now being seen as a distraction from the ongoing GOP effort to milk Obamacare’s problems for all they’re worth.

Meanwhile, Politico reports that Republicans are struggling to draw up an agenda for 2014 that will “show that the GOP can solve problems instead of only serve only as perpetual  combatants with President Barack Obama.” Along these lines, the Post’s Chris Cillizza has an important piece arguing Republicans are misguided if they believe Obamacare’s problems will solve the GOP’s long term issues:

“Republicans need to understand that their political problems are neither tactical nor transitory,” said Rep. Tom Cole. “They are structural and demographic. The hard truth is the GOP coalition constitutes a shrinking portion of the electorate. To change that daunting reality, Republicans must appeal to groups that are currently outside their ranks or risk becoming a permanent minority.”

Opposing a president’s agenda might be enough to win a midterm election in which (largely base) voters are in the mood to send a message to the man in the White House. But simply saying “I am not that guy” is not even close to enough to win a presidential election. And that goes double for 2016, when Obama won’t be on the ballot and when the Republican brand could be in the gutter nationally…Opposition to what Obama has done is not a path to winning over Hispanics, women or young voters. [...]

So yes, Republicans are having a very good month. They may have a very good next year. And a very good 2014 election. But that doesn’t mean that what ailed the GOP in 2012 (and 2008) has magically fixed itself. It hasn’t.

I’d only add that unless the law implodes completely (which has not happened yet), and if the law works out over time (which could still happen, though it might not) the continued obsession with Obamacare repeal could actually become a tougher position for Republicans to explain as coverage expands. It could also actively impede efforts to solve the GOP’s Latino problem. This problem isn’t just about immigration; it is also about Obamacare, and if the law expands coverage even as Republicans continue to push repeal, that stance could continue complicating it.

Republicans will continue to operate from the premise that Obamacare’s total collapse is not only inevitable but is already happening. Indeed, it looks as if the scale of the rollout fiasco is only encouraging the party to postpone dealing with immigration reform (and with it, the party’s demographic challenges), and more broadly, to postpone the need to prove it can “solve problems,” as Politico puts it.

If Obamacare fails over the long term, it will be a political disaster for Democrats. Republicans and commentators continue to cite Dem rollout panic as proof they are abandoning the law in droves. But much of this is just positioning, and genuine abandonment of the law by Dems just hasn’t happened yet. Indeed, right or wrong, top Dems still believe that in the end, their “keep and fix” message will wear better over time than the GOP’s total-elimination posture will.

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* DEMS STICK TO “KEEP AND FIX” OBAMACARE MESSAGE: The Post has a big piece detailing all the ways Democratic candidates are scrambling to deal with the political fallout from the health law’s problems in advance of 2014. This, from DCCC chair Steve Israel, is significant:

In an interview, Israel said that the DCCC’s polling in battleground districts shows that a majority of voters — 55 percent — favor Democratic plans “to fix and improve” the health-care law over Republican plans to “repeal and defund” it. “Voters want problem solvers, not partisan warriors,” he said.

Top Dems have been planning this “keep and fix” message for months, on the theory that voters — whatever their disapproval of the law itself – will ultimately reward the party that is seen to genuinely want to fix the health system. The question, though, is whether panic among Dems will lead them to embrace en masse fixes that seriously undermine the law. That hasn’t happened yet, but it could.

* WHAT TO WATCH FOR IN COMING BUDGET TALKS: Senate Democratic aides tell George Zornick that Senate Dems will be pushing for an extension of unemployment benefits as part of the coming budget conference, along with House Democrats and the White House, who will also push for the same thing. This means party unity behind the push for the extension, which would be good for the economy and provide another areas for Dems to draw a sharp contrast in priorities with the GOP.

We haven’t yet heard from Congressional Republicans on whether they will oppose the extension.

* CONGRESS WILL PROBABLY LET UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS EXPIRE: Annie Lowrey reports that Congressional lawmakers believe the chances of extending unemployment benefits are slim, even though it would leave an estimated 1.3 million people in limbo. Also:

The left-of-center Economic Policy Institute has estimated that the expiration of the emergency jobless benefits program would reduce job growth by 310,000 positions next year because consumers over all would have less money to spend. Michael Feroli, chief United States economist at JPMorgan Chase, has estimated that it would drain about four-tenths of a percentage point from first-quarter economic growth. 

Extending unemployment benefits will help the economy? Looks like this will be another area where Congress actively impedes the recovery.

* REPUBLICAN WINS WHILE EMBRACING PART OF OBAMACARE: Shocker: A Republican businessman has won a special election for a House seat in Louisiana, prevailing over another Republican even though he embraced the health law’s Medicaid expansion. The losing candidate explicitly cast a vote for the winner as a “vote for Obamacare.”

Dems are seizing on this as a sign Republicans don’t have to embrace an absolutist position against the law, arguing that accommodating parts of it — the Medicaid expansion, in particular — can prove a political winner, even in a red state.

* TENNESSEE GOVERNOR UNDER PRESSURE TO EXPAND MEDICAID: Relatedly, the New York Times has a must read on the pressure Tennessee’s Republican governor is feeling to opt in to the Medicaid expansion. Key takeaway: The expansion has pitted GOP officeholders and conservative groups against the state’s medical and business groups, who see the expansion as a boon to the state that will prevent hundreds of thousands from falling into a coverage gap.

Though many GOP governors have opted out of the expansion, over time more could feel pressure to opt in, because it’s increasingly hard to argue against accepting all that federal money to benefit their own states and constituents.

* DEM GOVERNORS MAKING OBAMACARE WORK: Don’t miss the Post op ed piece by Democratic governors arguing that they have made the health law work for their states and constituents. They run through some success stories, and conclude:

These sorts of stories could be happening in every state if politicians would quit rooting for failure and directly undermining implementation of the Affordable Care Act — and, instead, put their constituents first. Health reform is working for the people of Washington, Kentucky and Connecticut because elected leaders on both sides of the aisle came together to do what is right for their residents. We urge Congress to get out of the way and to support efforts to make health-care reform work for everyone. We urge our fellow governors, most especially those in states that refused to expand Medicaid, to make health-care reform work for their people too.

* AND DEMS OUTRAISE GOP: The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee announces it raised $4.8 million in October, versus $3.8 million raised by the NRSC. Dems will point out that this happened during the month where the Obamacare rollout problems – which Republicans say will be a big boon in 2014 – dominated the headlines. Still, I’d be cautious about reading too much into fundraising numbers about Obamacare either way. As always, what really matters politically is whether the law works over time.

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.