Morning Plum: Insurance industry bets on Obamacare. GOP bets on failure.

I’ve expected this for some time, and here it is: The Wall Street Journal reports that insurance companies are set to unleash hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising to entice potential customers on to the exchanges created by Obamacare. As the Journal puts it:

Insurers … are capitalizing on an unprecedented opportunity in a shifting health-care market. Some seven million Americans are expected to buy health coverage on the new consumer exchanges, where people can compare insurance plans side by side.

All of this was merely put on hold by the failure of the federal website, and now that it’s largely functional, these plans can proceed. All this is a reminder of just how much of a stake the industry has in the law’s success, and how much it is willing to spend to try to make that happen.

What’s striking is that this comes even as the absolute certainty among Republicans that the law cannot do anything other than fail spectacularly — indeed, that this has already happened — has only hardened. The New York Times reports that a whole batch of Republicans who were unseated in 2012 are running again for Congress explicitly because they believe Obamacare’s failure has given them an opening — and that they have replaced their previous focus on other issues with a single minded focus on the law.

Meanwhile, if we get a budget deal — it has passed the House, but its prospects in the Senate are uncertain — it will be partly because of GOP certainty in Obamacare’s failure. Paul Ryan is now claiming that one reason House Republicans supported the sequester replacement is so they can “focus on replacing Obamacare.” Newt Gingrich similarly asserts that budget deal is good politics for Republicans because “it strips away the danger that people will notice anything but Obamacare. And the longer the country watches Obamacare, the more likely the Democrats are to lose the Senate.”

There is no denying that enrollment is lagging behind predictions, which could be problematic over the long term, or that the disastrous rollout could plague Democrats through the 2014 elections. A batch of new polls (noted below) is cause for concern. But the Republican strategy for 2014 seems to place all of its chips on the idea that current circumstances couldn’t possibly change.

Indeed, Time magazine reports that House Republicans are wary of tackling other issues in 2014 precisely because it would risk getting in the way of the political “gift” Obamacare has bestowed on them. As Time puts it: “Afraid of squandering this unforeseen gift, Republicans are treading lightly, hoping they can freeze the electorate’s mood for the next 11 months.” One GOP aide notes: “Ideally, we’d freeze things the way they are in amber until November. But, obviously, that’s not possible.”

Polls have shown that only Republicans believe Obamacare can already be pronounced a failure or that it can’t be made to work. Everyone else — including the insurance companies, who are putting huge money on the line — appears to believe otherwise.

* REPUBLICANS CAUGHT IN AN OBAMACARE REPEAL TRAP: Politico says what must never be said: The GOP repeal stance is deeply problematic.

Republican primary candidates are caught in an Obamacare fix. Even the slightest hint that a GOP contender might support anything besides all-out repeal of the health care law is drawing attacks from the right. So, increasingly, in races across the country, proposals to fix the existing law or retain any of it are being ruled out by Republicans eager to further burnish their conservative credentials. It’s a dicey situation for both establishment Republican candidates and their tea-party inspired opponents.

The certainty in Obamacare’s ongoing collapse appears to leave no room for any alternative strategy.

* BUDGET DEAL IN DOUBT IN SENATE: CBS News reports that Dems think they need eight Republicans to support the budget deal for it to pass, thanks to a few likely Dem defections, and that GOP support remains in doubt. The Dems’ chief vote counter, Senator Dick Durbin, blames presidential politics, possible primaries, and fear of the Tea Party:

“A handful of members of the Senate are vying for the presidency in years to come and thinking about this vote in the context. And others are frankly afraid of this new force, the tea party force, the Heritage Foundation force, that is threatening seven out of the 12 Republican senators running for re-election.”

Republicans are caught between their certainty that Obamacare will prove an epic catastrophe and the fury of the Tea Party at the prospect of bipartisan compromise on a slight easing of austerity.

* PUBLIC BLAMES OBAMACARE FOR RISING PREMIUMS: A new Associated Press poll finds that a big majority of those with job-based or other private coverage believe their premiums are going up because of the new health law. This suggests that, even if enrollment does get close to meeting expectations, the health law still faces political problems that will probably continue to weigh down Dems next year.

* BUT PUBLIC STILL TRUSTS DEMS MORE ON HEALTH CARE: The above AP poll also finds:

The poll found that Democrats still have an edge over Republicans, by 32 percent to 22 percent, when it comes to whom the public trusts to handle health care.

As always, as big a problem as the law is for Dems, the degree to which this translates into political profit for Republicans remains unclear, apparently because their total repeal stance remains unpopular and they’ve failed to offer a meaningful alternative.

* MILLENNIALS TURNING ON OBAMACARE: And on top of the AP poll comes this new one from Pew and USA Today:

Forty-five percent of 18- to 29-year-old Americans say they approve of the way Obama is handling his job; 46% disapprove of his job performance…just 41% approve of his signature health care policy, while 54% disapprove.

Okay, but that’s as it should be: the rollout of the health law was a disaster. Meanwhile, other polls have shown that despite whatever disapproval exists, young voters are not prepared to give up on the law.

* SENATE “LIKELY” TO PASS IRAN SANCTIONS BILL: John McCain, speaking on CNN’s State of the Union, is probably right about this:

“I think that it’s very likely that we could have a sanctions bill, which would take effect at the end of six months if there is no result in the negotiations.”

The sanctions bill would probably have built in flexibility, if after six months a deal is within reach. Even so, the administration thinks it could undermine hopes for a long term diplomatic breakthrough. Still, lawmakers appear adamant about getting a chance to vote on this, anyway.

* AND HERE’S WHY INEQUALITY MATTERS: With some questioning Obama’s insistence that inequality is the “defining challenge” of our time, Paul Krugman’s column argues that inequality maximized the influence of wealthy elites over policy-making, leading to the deregulation that helped cause the economic crisis, and the austerity obsession that undermines the recovery:

Underlying some of the backlash against inequality talk, I believe, is the desire of some pundits to depoliticize our economic discourse, to make it technocratic and nonpartisan. But that’s a pipe dream. Even on what may look like purely technocratic issues, class and inequality end up shaping — and distorting — the debate…Inequality is, indeed, the defining challenge of our time. Will we do anything to meet that challenge?

And as noted before, the argument over how to meet this challenge will inevitably play a major part in Democratic Party politics at any rate, because Democratic voters already are convinced that it is a central challenge that government must address.

 What else?

 

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