Anybody there? 1.4 million and counting have lost jobless benefits. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Anybody there? 1.3 million and counting have lost jobless benefits. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Is it conceivable that the 2014 elections might not prove to be exclusively about Obamacare and nothing else?

With the battle over unemployment benefits raging, Dems are increasingly focused on the fact that some House Republicans expected to oppose an extension under any circumstances — no matter what “pay for” is agreed to — are also running for Senate.

Today, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee will hit multiple Republicans who are vying for their party’s Senate nomination in red states over the Republican refusal to extend benefits – in keeping with the broader Dem effort to make 2014 about economic mobility and inequality. Dems are targeting GOP Senate candidates in Georgia, Arkansas,  Kentucky,  Louisiana, Montana, New Hampshire, and West Virginia. Here’s the release hitting House GOPers running for Senate in Georgia:

Phil Gingrey, Paul Broun, and Jack Kingston have turned their backs on Georgians looking for work and it’s costing Georgia’s economy millions. Gingrey, Broun, and Kingston have all opposed extending critical unemployment insurance in the past for Georgians looking for work. That kind of irresponsible economic ideology caused 54,400 Georgians to lose critical assistance on December 28.

“Gingrey, Broun, and Kingston’s reckless and irresponsible economic agenda is hurting Georgians who are looking for work, hurting the state’s middle class and will likely cost Georgia’s economy at least $28.9 million by the end of the week,” said Justin Barasky, a spokesman at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “Phil Gingrey, Paul Broun, and Jack Kingston are siding with Washington special interests and the Tea Party instead of doing what’s right for Georgia’s economy, and the middle class and working people are paying the price.”

It’s not yet clear how House Republicans will handle the current extension. GOP leaders have said they are open to the extension if it’s paid for and coupled with a GOP job creation measure. But it’s difficult to imagine any circumstances under which House conservatives support an extension, since groups such as Heritage Action have come out against it even if it’s paid for. You can imagine this becoming an issue in GOP primaries, making a Yes vote even harder. It’s also possible that the Senate will fail to pass an extension, in which case the GOP-controlled House will probably not act at all — an outcome that will also be used against House GOPers running for Senate.

Dems believe the failure to extend benefits — and opposition to a minimum wage hike — will build a general election case that centers on Republicans’ lack of an affirmative agenda for economically struggling Americans.

Republicans will try to turn the politics of UI to their advantage by citing the need for the debate itself as an indictment of the Obama economy. “The Labor Force Participation Rate is just 63%, its lowest point since Jimmy Carter was President,” emails NRSC spokesman Brad Dayspring. “Unemployment insurance is a temporary measure designed to help the long-term unemployed find jobs. Here’s the dirty little secret: It isn’t working because people aren’t finding jobs (and it isn’t for a lack of trying). We need to focus on solutions to end long-term unemployment and focus on jobs — and President Obama and Senate Democrats simply aren’t up to the task.”

Indeed, some Republicans apparently don’t sweat the politics of the unemployment benefits debate one little bit:

* REPUBLICANS NOT WORRIED ABOUT POLITICS OF UI: Related to the above: David Drucker has this remarkable bit of reporting:

Republicans…said the president’s insistence on the dire need for additional jobless aid sends the message to voters that five years of his Democratic stewardship has failed to revive the economy. Republicans are somewhat concerned that opposing the benefits extension could paint them as insensitive in the eyes of voters. And, publicly, Republicans will try to convey sympathy for the unemployed and emphasize their support for the measure if Democrats agree to couple it with other job creation proposals and offset its $6.5 billion price tag with savings from other government programs. Privately, though, they are not too worried that opposing the extension will damage them politically.

This confirms what I’ve been saying here: the push for a “pay for” is about mitigating the political damage if the extension goes down, allowing Republicans to paint its failure as the result of inside-the-Beltway bickering rather than the fact that one party ideologically opposes an extension and the other doesn’t.

Despite this show of confidence from some Republicans, however, others, such as senators John Thune and Lamar Alexander, are increasingly saying out loud that the Republican Party really does need an affirmative agenda, and that — get this — only running against Obamacare just might not be enough.

* HOUSE DEMS MOVE TO FORCE VOTE ON UI: This just in from a House Democratic aide:

House Democrats will offer a procedural motion Thursday which will force Republicans to vote to block a vote on a measure identical to the unemployment extension bill that advanced in the Senate Monday. The so-called Previous Question vote is designed to put additional pressure on House Republicans as the toll from the refusal to extend UI benefits now has reached 1.4 million Americans, with 72,000 more Americans added each week.

The idea is to get Republicans on record voting against an extension — as noted above, Dems believe it will be to their advantage in general elections. Also, today Ways and Means Dems are moving to increase the pressure in another way, by releasing a new counter that is tallying up the numbers of people losing UI benefits in real time.

* CONSERVATIVES WAGE WAR ON THE WAR ON POVERTY: Dana Milbank has a good column recapping the response of House conservatives to the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty. Note this, on the ubiquitous talking point that more people are in poverty now than in 1963:

Well, yes, 10 million more Americans are in poverty now than there were in 1963 — but the overall population has increased by 125 million. If you include all of the financial assistance from anti-poverty programs, the poverty rate dips to below 8 percent today. And people who are poor suffer less because they receive health care through Medicaid and nutrition through food stamps.

And of course the GOP poverty agenda right now includes blocking the Medicaid expansion in half the states and cutting $40 billion out of food stamps.

* TED CRUZ’S OBAMACARE DERANGEMENT KNOWS NO BOUNDS: The Wall Street Journal’s Neil King talks to the Texas Senator and finds that his zeal to destroy the health law is running as strong as ever. As King notes, however, Cruz’s GOP colleagues admit Republicans need a broader agenda. Key nugget from the Cruz interview:

Republicans must use “every leverage point available” to uproot the law, he said in a 45-minute discussion in which he mentioned Obamacare more than 40 times, calling it “a disaster” and “the No. 1 job killer in the country.”

Every leverage point available? Another government shutdown? Another debt ceiling hostage crisis?

* NEW YORK TIMES BRINGS HAMMER DOWN ON CHRISTIE: The New York Times goes big with an analysis of what latest turn in bridge-gate means for Chris Christie’s national ambitions, suggesting it undermines his carefully cultivated image as a straight shooter who is above the pettiness of Washington politics at the worst possible time, and relating it to other similar incidents in the same vein. As the story notes, the scandal is a double whammy: it also risks undermining Christie’s image as willing to work with Democrats — which, if you remember, had resonated nationally when he toured storm damage with Obama.

Christie will speak to reporters at 11 a.m. today.

* FARM BILL DEAL IS CLOSE: It will reportedly contain $6 billion in food stamp cuts, far short of the $40 billion eyed by Republicans, but still too much for some liberals. What remains to be see is whether Dems will push for savings from the farm bill to pay for a UI extension, which Dems are still debating behind the scenes.

* AND THE QUOTE OF THE DAY, IMMIGRATION-REFORM-IS-UNDEAD EDITION: Ashley Parker reports that it’s too soon to write off immigration reform’s chances: House GOP leaders are promising to roll out “principles,” and groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce plan to increase the pressure. Chamber president Tom Donohue says it’s wrong to assume this can’t get done in an election year:

“I think Democrats and Republicans alike would like to go home and run for office with something they got done that’s significant,” he said. “I believe we’re two thirds of the way there.”

You’d think, right? Again, this really is the central question: do House Republicans actually think they need to achieve governing accomplishments, given that their majority is supposedly invulnerable?

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.