December 4, 2013

With pundits declaring Obama’s second term in serious trouble, the President will try to revive its hopes by returning to a set of themes he turned to when his presidency was on the rocks in 2011, and then again to win reelection.

The New York Times reports that in a speech today, Obama will again renew his pitch for the Affordable Care Act, but will link it to a larger argument about the need for government to do more to strengthen middle class economic security:

It is a vision of partnership between government and citizens that Mr. Obama has described since he was a state senator in Illinois, and it draws on the legacies of three Republican presidents — Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower. [...]

As knotty as the problems with the insurance program have been, Mr. Obama vows that those can and will be fixed. But the broader problems he will address on Wednesday — a longstanding and widening gap in incomes and opportunity between the rich and everyone else — defy easy solutions…In what Mr. Obama sees as a small but crucial step, he will renew his call on Wednesday to raise the federal minimum wage.

There will be a good deal of chortling from Republicans about this speech — Obama is pivoting to the economy again!!! — but it’s worth recalling that Obama and his advisers have previously seen the need to return to these big themes as the way to turn things around. And they have been right.

As John Heilemann and Mark Halperin detail in Double Down, when the Obama presidency seemed in trouble in 2011, and with reelection looking daunting, the president and his advisers took a hard look at research by Obama pollster Joel Benenson and agreed he needed to reboot with a return to core “economic values.” Adviser David Axelrod privately told the president he’d lost his aura as “someone who would run through a wall for the middle class.” What followed was Obama’s big speech in Kansas about the need to return to the economic values that created the middle class stability of the post-war decades — themes that set the template for reelection.

Obama faces similar challenges now. His personal attributes (long one of his strengths) have slipped precipitously. The catastrophic Obamacare rollout has cast doubt on the administration’s competence and has led to calls for him to revamp his team. GOP intransigence has, if anything, deepened with the law’s failings: Immigration reform, which would be a cornerstone of a successful second term, is probably dead. Any deal to replace the sequester, which continues to drag down the recovery, looks improbable.

Faced with these realities, probably the best outcomes Obama can hope for center on the health law working over the long term (something only time will determine), and on hopes that the 2014 elections won’t be disastrous. This latter hope is partly why Obama will focus on the minimum wage today, something Dems plan to campaign heavily on next year.

I’m told Senate Dems may vote on the minimum wage sometime before Christmas, which could help in 2014. Indeed, if history is any guide, today’s speech is really about setting a template for the upcoming elections, one that allows Dems to shift from the grinding war of attrition over Obamacare that Republicans want to the bigger economic themes Dems believe give them the upper hand. It’s no accident that Obama pollster Benenson is distributing a memo pushing Dems to return to these themes — exactly as happened in 2011.

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* REPUBLICANS REVIVE FAILED ATTACK ON OBAMACARE: CNN reports that national Republicans are preparing to attack vulnerable Democratic Senators and other Dems running for Senate for supporting a $700 billion cut to Medicare in the form of the health law.

Untold sums of money were spent on this same bogus attack during the 2012 elections, and we all remember how that turned out. It’s true, as Republicans say, that the botched rollout and direct experience of the law could change the landscape, but it’s also quite possible that the law will work out over time and be a wash in 2014. Either way, this new (old) attack is a reminder of just how convinced Republicans are that this time Obamacare just has to result in a political bonanza.

* GOP CERTAIN OBAMACARE IS WINNER FOR THEM: The Post’s Sean Sullivan, in a piece that rightly says Dems must rebuild trust in Obamacare, also notes two key facts about the Republican position: The GOP repeal stance is not popular, and Republicans appear so certain the health law’s problems are a winner for them that they see no need to offer any alternative.

That’s the Republican gamble. What remains striking (see this CBS News piece on the travails Dems face as an example) is that the mere possibility that the GOP stance could also prove a liability over time is almost entirely absent from much of the media discussion.

* CONSERVATIVE GROUPS LINE UP TO BLUDGEON HEALTH LAW: The Post reports that outside conservative groups, such as the Koch-founded Americans for Prosperity, are preparing a major round of attacks on the next round of expected problems with the law:

Tim Phillips, the group’s president, said the efforts will highlight problems with the law generally and will also target specific Democrats from conservative states….“If the president rolls out individual elements that are supposedly a good thing and he wants to highlight, we’re absolutely going to continue rolling out new problems of Obamacare,” Phillips said, adding that the focus would be on Americans who lose access to their preferred set of doctors or specialists.

One hopes, and expects, that the White House and Dems will have a plan in place to counter these specific attacks this time.

* A CAMPAIGN TO WATCH: Keep an eye on the special election to succeed the late GOP Rep. Bill Young in Florida. A Republican pollster is already esting negative messages about Obamacare against Democratic candidate Alex Sink.

This race could serve as a testing ground for messages both sides will use in 2014. So it will be interesting to see how Sink handles the attacks on the health law, as a preview for how Dems will deal with it next year and how serious a vulnerability it really is (or isn’t).

* DEMS KEEP UP OFFENSIVE ON OBAMACARE: The DCCC is blasting releases into the districts of five dozen House Republicans, hitting them for voting to repeal Obamacare, with an emphasis on the benefits that would take away from people. From the release targeting GOP Rep. Michael Grimm:

Congressman Michael Grimm’s obsessive attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act would end preventive health coverage that saves lives and reduces costs for 105 million Americans, including 4,401,000 people in New York. Congressman  Grimm has voted time and again to repeal the Affordable Care Act and send us back to the days when insurance companies had free rein to deny coverage for prevention and then hike rates when patients got sick. The preventive care that Grimm would take away includes immunizations for children and cancer screenings and mammograms for adults.

By and large, Dems just aren’t running away from the law in any meaningful sense; they continue to operate from the premise that voters will grasp that one side wants to solve our health care problems, while the other is determined to sabotage any Dem solutions while offering none of their own.

* HOUSE GOP WANTS MEDICAID CUTS: Lori Montgomery reports that Republicans are prepared to let unemployment benefits lapse, and not only that, the talks to replace the sequester are hung up on demands from House Republicans, such as this one:

The potential agreement still faces significant hurdles, including continued requests by Republicans for cuts to Medicaid, Democrats said.

How’s that GOP poverty agenda coming along?

* AND THE FACTOID OF THE DAY, GAY MARRIAGE EDITION: The Associated Press, in reporting about an ongoing court challenge to a law in Utah banning gay marriage, notes this:

There are 46 similar court challenges to same-sex marriage bans in 22 states.

With marriage equality already legal in states that are home to at least one quarter of the U.S. population, it’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when.

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.