Happy Hour Roundup

* Charlie Cook has a very fair assessment of the two parties’ messages heading into the 2014 elections. Cook says what must never be said — that even though Obamacare is unpopular, the GOP repeal stance might also be problematic:

Besides the obvious strategic risk of putting all their eggs in one basket, there is another problem with the GOP’s approach to 2014. While the public is hardly enthusiastic about Obamacare, the same polls that show unfavorable attitudes toward the law also show an electorate that isn’t looking to repeal it but rather fix it. This theme is absent from Republicans’ talking points. They risk being seen as capable of only throwing rocks rather than improving things, thus contributing to a negative image that led to many of their problems in the 2012 election.

The odd GOP certainty that talking about only Obamacare will be enough in 2014 is rarely noted by pundits, so it’s good to see it here. Cook also notes that the GOP needs to worry about the persistent “empathy gap,” which Dems are playing on by talking about economic mobility, inequality, unemployment benefits and the minimum wage.

I’d quibble with Cook on one point. Dems are not talking about those topics to take the focus off of Obamacare. Rather, they are doing that as part of an effort to talk about the health law in a broader economic context.

* Jonathan Chait finds the hidden flaw in the new, emerging GOP poverty agenda:

Everybody agrees that faster economic growth, low unemployment, and higher wages would make people happier than being poor. The question is, given the actual labor market, why would withholding benefits from unemployed workers create jobs when jobs are so scarce? Few Republicans care to address that question straightforwardly. That is the void the still-theoretical Republican poverty agenda is meant to fill….it is hard to explain why they are fighting for a blunt policy of cutting right now. If Republicans care so much about the poor and unemployed, why inflict further misery on them right now while the party leisurely draws up a grand new vision for the welfare state?

* Sahil Kapur has an interesting look inside the dynamics of the standoff over unemployment benefits, including the real reason Mitch McConnell is pushing a year-long mandate delay amendment: to attack vulnerable Dem Senators for voting against it.

* Gallup: Disapproval of Obamacare is still running high, but 66 percent of Americans say it has had no effect on them. (Yes, I know, there are still huge disasters ahead.)

* Jared Bernstein gently suggests to Congress that perhaps the bad December jobs report should get them to prioritize jobs, and to prioritize extending unemployment benefits right away without too much worry over paying for it right this second.

* Matt Duss has a rebuttal to Senator Robert Menendez’s insistence that the Iran sanctions bill the administration emphatically doesn’t want is really a big boon to the administration.

* But look: Of course hawkish Senate Dems should push a sanctions bill that could derail diplomacy right now. After all, as Kevin Drum notes, there are signs of some progress in negotiations — slow, fitful progress, but progress nonetheless. Can’t have that.

* Important stuff from Alan Abramowitz and Ed Kilgore reminding pundits not to get too carried away by the high level of self-identifying independents. No, there is no material here for any “centrist” third party. If there is a party that’s close to the “center” right now, it’s the Democrats.

* Gay rights advocates hail the Obama administration’s decision to recognize Utah’s gay marriages as another bold step forward.

* Rachel Maddow and Steve Benen offer an alternate theory of the Chris Christie traffic scandal, one that squares with Christie’s insistence that he’d never even seen Fort Lee mayor Mark Sokolich, which I agree seemed persuasive.

* I meant to tell you this yesterday, but Plum Line alum Jonathan Bernstein’s new blog is now up and running. Bookmark it now.

* And your sorely needed Friday comic relief, Obamacare derangement edition: “Obaamcare website’s biggest security threat may be Darrell Issa.”

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Dems call GOP bluff on jobless benefits