The Morning Plum: Have Obama and the health law bottomed out?

 Barack Obama    (Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach)

Barack Obama (Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach)

It’s too soon to reach any definitive conclusions. But new polls suggest Democrats can hit the pause button on their full blown panic about the health law’s political impact.

Yes, the new NBC/WSJ poll contains absolutely awful numbers for Obama and the Affordable Care Act. Fifty-four percent disapprove of the president, the highest of his tenure. He has slipped in key categories, such as honesty and crisis management. Half the country says the law is a bad idea. Notably, a majority says by 51-43 that they are bothered more by the terrible rollout and people losing plans than by GOP efforts to sabotage the law. Republicans are still mostly winning the public opinion war over the ACA.

But the poll also finds only 26 percent favor total elimination of the law. (Republicans will argue another 31 percent favors a major overhaul, which is true, but Dems can try to speak to that with a “keep and fix” message, while Republicans are trapped in a total repeal stance.) Also: 58 percent say it hasn’t had much of an impact on them; and Dems still hold a six point edge on the health care issue. After a crush of truly horrific press about the ACA, only one quarter of the country wants to get rid of the law, suggesting the law is probably still on probation with many voters, despite all its problems – meaning there may still be room to turn things around.

Meanwhile, a New York Times poll similarly finds half the country disapproves of the law and Obama’s approval rating is at 42 percent, but both of those are improvements since November. The Times headline — “Obama sees a rebound in approval ratings — seems like a big reach. But this claim from the article seems fair: “The political fallout from the website’s start-up might be over.”

Indeed, it’s possible the worst numbers reflect the awful rollout problems of November — which have now stabilized — and that the law will now begin to work moderately well. And that is all that matters: If it does work moderately well, and enrollment continues, and majorities continue to say it hasn’t affected them adversely, and only small minorities want to get rid of it, the law could recede from the headlines and have a mitigated political impact. Dems may be able to fight the Obamacare battle to a draw and fight out the 2014 elections over other issues, too. Of course, if it fails over the long haul, it will be a full blown political disaster for them. But only time will settle this.

* OBAMACARE CONTINUES MOVING FORWARD: Wonkblog has the latest:

Just about 1.2 million people have gained health coverage through Obamacare, according to new federal data released Wednesday morning.

Approximately 365,000 of those people have purchased private insurance and 803,000 have been determined to be eligible for the public Medicaid program. These numbers count data from both October and November, and show an especially quick growth in HealthCare.gov enrollment.

Still a long way to go, but this again shows that demand remains, despite weeks of awful press coverage of the law and weeks of GOP declarations that it has already failed.

* BUDGET DEAL LEAVES UNEMPLOYED BEHIND: This, from the Post’s write-up of the new budget deal, tells you all you need to know:

The deal would not deliver a key demand of many Democrats, to extend unemployment insurance for the long-term jobless. While they pledged to keep fighting, senior Democrats acknowledged that checks are likely to be cut off at the end of the month for more than a million people, potentially undercutting the strengthening economic recovery.

Well, there you have it. My understanding is Dems will somehow try to get the UI extension passed as part of the appropriations process, but prospects appear bleak.

* NO, THE BUDGET DEAL WASN’T A BIG BIPARTISAN BREAKTHROUGH: Sarah Binder talks a lot of sense here:

Will the bipartisan spirit that produced this deal portend additional bipartisan deals around the corner?  I’m doubtful.  Breaking the cycle of budgetary brinkmanship does not yet seem to have resolved bicameral differences elsewhere on the Hill….More likely, the mini-deal is emblematic of legislative battles in polarized times: Parties come to the table only when the costs of blocking an agreement are too great to shoulder. And even then, parties will give up as little as necessary to avoid the sometimes painful consequences of stalemate.

Right. Also worth noting: Neither side moved off core positions on new taxes or entitlement cuts, and Republicans only agreed to lift spending a little bit because the incentives strongly tilted against having more crises in 2014.

* WHY REPUBLICANS MAY SUPPORT BUDGET DEAL: You’ll be hearing more of this. With some conservatives savaging the budget deal because it lifts spending, Bill Kristol says embracing the deal is the only way to make 2014 about Obamacare:

It averts a meltdown scenario next month, in which it would have become clear that House Republicans don’t in fact have the votes in their own conference to insist on the budget caps and sequester. So the real alternative to the deal isn’t a more fiscally conservative outcome achieved by Republican unity; it’s GOP political disarray and policy defeat. The deal saves Republicans from this fate, while allowing for a focus throughout the next year and in the 2014 election season on Obamacare and other Obama administration failures, rather than on intra-GOP wars and possible government shutdowns.

But what if Obamacare works decently over time? That’s an impossibility, so there’s no need to even consider it.

* DEAL WILL LET GOP MAKE 2014 ALL ABOUT OBAMACARE: The Wall Street Journal grudgingly endorses the budget deal for the same reason:, noting that the alternative, i.e., more crises, would mean

more turmoil, more evidence that the GOP can’t govern, and the risk of another shutdown. By contrast this deal pushes the budget debate past next November and lets Republicans focus on ObamaCare and its many ills.

As always, the certainty that the law can be nothing but a political winner for the GOP is unshakable.

* WILL PRIMARIES DENT GOP CHANCES OF TAKING SENATE? CNN has a decent overview of that question. The Democratic view is this:

“Republicans said they needed to rebrand and start reaching out to voters in the middle in order to win. They were right, but the primaries have prevented them from doing that. Instead, primaries are forcing all Republican candidates to embrace the tea party and a slate of policy positions that will hurt them in a general election,” said Matt Canter, deputy executive director of the rival Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

The Republican view is that, even if primaries cost the GOP winnable seats last time, the only race where primaries could plausibly compromise the GOP candidate enough in a general election is in Georgia. (If Dems take the Georgia Senate seat from the GOP, however, Republicans would have to win an implausibly high number of seats to take the Senate.)

* REPUBLICANS ON LOSING END OF CULTURE WAR: A new National Journal poll finds a strong majority supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would end most anti-gay workplace discrimination, but a plurality of Republicans dissents. Alex Roarty sums it up:

The numbers underscore the degree to which public opinion has swung in favor of expanding gay rights, even if support lags for transgender men and women. And they demonstrate the predicament facing Republicans, who more often than not now find themselves on the losing end of the culture war. Like immigration, some types of gun control, and — increasingly — gay marriage, the GOP opposes legislation that draws support from a majority of the country.

As always, the question is: Do Republican leaders think any of this matters, given that their hold on the House is apparently unbreakable?

* AND THE REALITY CHECK OF THE DAY, GUN CONTROL EDITION: The New York Times has a very useful interactive chart illustrating the landscape of state gun laws in the year or so since the Newtown shooting. Summary: 39 state-level measures have tightened gun restrictions, while 70 have loosened them.

So, yes, the battle has shifted to the states, but the gun control forces seem to be losing there, too.

What else?

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