December 5, 2013

It’s now clear that news organizations are beginning to take seriously the idea that Democrats are not uniformly on the defensive over Obamacare. Stories are beginning to note the nuances in Dem messaging, reporting that Dem candidates are sticking to a “keep and fix” message on the law, and acknowledging that calling for improvements does not constitute running away from it, despite GOP spin to the contrary. Stories are pointing out that the GOP repeal stance could also prove problematic, and that some Republicans are edging away from it.

With this in mind, here’s Harry Reid, in an interview with a Nevada TV station, making the startling and counter-intuitive claim that the health law could actually be a plus for Democrats in the 2014 elections. Asked about the rollout problems, and whether they would hurt Dems, Reid replied:

“This is something that America needed. We cannot have health care just for people with money…I think it’s going to be good for them. By that time, there will be a lot of people on it that have already signed up. It’ll be fine…Politics ebbs and flows. This has not been fun, the last month or so. But it’s getting better, even the last few days.”

I don’t know if I’d go as far as Reid here — it seems obvious the law could remain a liability for embattled Democrats; the question is how much that will matter. Indeed, the Hill reports that many Senate Dems remain deeply anxious about how the law will play out and what it will mean for their chances.

But the message Reid is trying to send to fellow Dems is important. The message is: We can’t go back to the old system, as Republicans would do, and voters instinctually get this. Meanwhile, over time, as more people sign up, and more positive stories emerge, the politics of this can only get better, and the Republican position will become increasingly untenable.

The truth is that, whatever nervousness remains among Dems, they are mostly shaping their strategy around that premise. This has been true for awhile now — the rollout fiasco obscured it temporarily but didn’t meaningfully change much — and the coverage is beginning to catch up with this basic reality.

For Democrats, turning around the D.C. media narrative on the health law is important. It would make it less likely that Dems get skittish again if there are more problems with the law in 2014, which is likely. It would also help maintain a sense of unity that would work in Dems’ favor, particularly now that there are some scattered signs of Republicans breaking away from the party’s repeal position.

* MEDIA NOTES DEMS GOING ON OFFENSE ON OBAMACARE:  The New York Times has a big piece spelling out all the ways Dems will be pressing the case for the law’s benefits in the days ahead. It’s moving forward on all fronts:

The president’s aides said that with fixes in place online, they hoped a daily barrage of more positive messages about the health care law during the next several weeks — some to be delivered by Mr. Obama personally — would help refocus attention on its benefits….House Democrats have begun passing along positive stories in their districts — of constituents obtaining insurance for the first time and gaining access to preventive care — during coordinated morning speeches that have become dueling anecdotes from the health care wars. On Thursday, members will focus on pre-existing conditions; next week, the theme is Medicaid expansion.

This was always in the works, and it was always going to happen; it was simply put on hold by the failure of the website. I’d add that this also includes Dems making the Medicaid expansion an issue against multiple GOP governors.

Of course, it’s also true that there will probably be more problems with the law. If that happens, you’ll see Dems redouble efforts to drive home the consequences of repeal to offset those downsides.

* REPUBLICANS STRUGGLING WITH REPEAL MESSAGE: In the above Times story, this from a Virginia Republican is key:

Even some Republicans are grudgingly saying that the health care law is already too established for a wholesale repeal, and with thousands of uninsured signing up daily, that option grows more distant each week. “It’s not in dispute that many Americans’ lives are being disrupted in an important way by this law,” said Representative Scott Rigell, Republican of Virginia. “Is it also true that some Americans’ lives have gotten better? Yes, and to not acknowledge that is to deny reality.”       

The health care law, he said, needs “more of a course change than a course reversal.”

You will be seeing more of this. Readers, along these lines, please tell me what you’re seeing from lawmakers in your states and districts.

* OBAMACARE WEBSITE REPORTEDLY SHOWING IMPROVEMENTS: CBS News has a good segment reporting that people’s experiences with the website are picking up, and enrollment is surging. The more stories like this you see, the more inclined Dems will be to hold the line.

* WHY DEMS ARE MAKING A BIG ISSUE OUT OF INEQUALITY: E.J. Dionne has an excellent column analyzing Obama’s big inequality speech yesterday, with this key insight:

Republicans are betting that Obamacare and its travails will be the deciding issue in next year’s elections. Obama thinks he can make the system work well enough to ease its burdens on vulnerable Democratic candidates. But he also thinks health care and the minimum wage can be linked to other proposals in a larger battle for economic fairness. The broader the playing field, the better his chances.

Yep. There’s precedent for this: Obama and his advisers returned to these big themes to reboot his presidency, and launch his reelection campaign, during the low point in 2011.

* ECONOMY PICKING UP MOMENTUM? Reuters:

The U.S. economy grew faster than initially estimated in the third quarter as businesses aggressively accumulated stock, but underlying domestic demand remained sluggish. Gross domestic product grew at a 3.6 percent annual rate instead of the 2.8 percent pace reported earlier, the Commerce Department said on Thursday.

A long, long way to go, however, and there are no signs that Congress will lift self-imposed austerity anytime soon, even though “demand remained sluggish.”

* BUDGET DEAL TAKING SHAPE:  MSNBC’s Daily Rundown has the first figure I’ve seen on spending levels for the emerging short-term budget deal:

The deal that’s taking shape sets the top line number in the $990 billion range by seeking alternative cuts and raising revenues

The new revenues would almost certainly come from fees and not closing loopholes, while the cuts will probably not fall on entitlements. Which is to say: All the tough decisions are being deferred. Also: That’s a higher spending level then the sequester; it’ll be interesting to see how conservatives react.

* AND GOP LEADERS SCHOOLING REPUBLICANS ON TALKING TO WOMEN: Politico scoops:

The National Republican Congressional Committee wants to make sure there are no Todd Akin-style gaffes next year, so they’re meeting with top aides to sitting Republicans to teach them what to say — or not to say — on the trail, especially when their boss is running against a woman. Speaker John Boehner is serious, too. His own top aides met recently with Republican staff to discuss how lawmakers should talk to women constituents.

Well, that’s good to hear. Do GOP policies on women’s health play any role in that gender gap?

 

 

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