Happy Hour Roundup: Obamacare and 2014

December 6, 2013

Conventional wisdom seems to be congealing around the idea that Democrats may be in deep trouble in 2014 thanks to the Affordable Care Act rollout. Charlie Cook, as good an example of a smart election observer as anyone, takes note of the big swing towards Republicans in recent generic ballot polling and concludes that unless there’s another government shutdown or other Republican self-immolation, “the public’s focus on Obamacare” could continue through election day, leading to another 2010-like route.

That seems highly, highly, unlikely. The opening of the exchanges was a natural media event, and when Healthcare.gov opened with catastrophic problems, it’s not surprising that the result was a press frenzy. But the exchanges are no longer in total disrepair; whether the experience is now pretty good, or sort of okay, is not the kind of story that drives a lot of press coverage. Nor are there all that many news hooks remaining. Perhaps we’ll get a wave of reporting after January 1 when new policies take effect — especially if communication between the government and insurance companies continues to be a big problem.  And there will be another news peg at the end of open season in the spring, and when the final enrollment numbers are announced, especially if they’re bad. Even those, however, are unlikely to be very intense.

And after that? It’s going to be a background story at best in the news. Indeed, it’s already fading from the headlines.

This hardly means that Democrats are safe. The key ingredients to midterm elections at a national level are whether the president is popular and whether the economy is strong; the context for the actual results includes vulnerable seats. Right now, the fundamentals (as John Sides notes) seem to point to a “no wave” election with Republicans picking up a handful of House seats. The two key variables, however, are just guesses as of now, with Sides plugging in the president’s current 42% approval rating and projecting recent slow economic growth (before the upward revisions this week, for whatever that’s worth) into the new year. Either or both of those guesses could turn out to be dramatically wrong — in either direction. Today’s solid jobs report hints at a more robust economy in 2014, but if there’s a new recession, Democrats will be punished. As for Obama’s approval ratings, events will likely determine whether he recovers or continues to erode (and it’s a complete myth that second term presidents cannot rebound).

The fundamentals of the 2014 cycle suggest small Republican gains. Gains, because the president’s party usually loses seats in second-term midterms; and small, because in the House, Republicans already hold most of the seats they normally can compete for. It’s still too early to know if those expectations will be met, but there’s nothing in the numbers so far that would indicate anything unexpected. Either way, it’s unlikely that health care reform will move a lot of votes this time around.

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And now, on to Happy Hour links (courtesy of gs):

* Alec MacGillis has a brutal takedown of all the “Obama is toast” punditry we’ve been seeing lately. MacGillis’ key point: Beltway observers know better than anyone else that things change in politics, but pretending otherwise is in the job description.

* The Obamacare error rate has dropped dramatically: As always, Jonathan Cohn brings much needed sobriety and perspective to the latest implementation freak out.

* This is welcome: The Huffington Post finds some House Republicans who think letting unemployment benefits lapse for over a million people in the midst of a sluggish recovery isn’t such a good idea. Can they prevail on the leadership?

* Meanwhile, the White House won’t insist that an unemployment extension, which Obama has pushed for, be contingent on supporting a budget deal. I wouldn’t make too much of this — the bottom line is Dem leaders want the sequester lifted to help the recovery, which is crucial, and they want the UI extension. One can’t kill the other.

* Jared Bernstein on why the new, relatively decent jobs report actually reinforces, rather than undermines, the case for the UI extension.

* As Roll Call notes, if it’s already unlikely Dems will get an unemployment extension out of Republicans, that probably means the chances of a minimum wage hike are even more remote.

* But some good news: Economists do believe the jobs report, plus the brightening prospects for relief from the sequester, suggest a real recovery may be underway.

* However, as Sahil Kapur notes, conservatives are already preparing to torpedo any budget deal that lifts spending a penny higher than the sequester, and it really is unclear what can pass the House, particularly if Dems object to provisions in the deal, as they may.

* The New York Times has a well reported piece looking at the winners and losers under Obamacare in North Carolina; only time will tell how it really will sort out over the long haul, which is what really matters.

* Poll: A majority of Republican men support expanding background checks. Republican men outside Congress, that is.

* And an interesting suggestion from Joan McCarter: Did the “centrist” Third Way inadvertently help give momentum to the movement to expand Social Security?

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Greg Sargent | December 6, 2013