Morning Plum: How Dems are fighting back on Obamacare

Democrats are increasingly alarmed by the huge money that the Koch brothers are spending on ads battering many vulnerable Senate and House candidates over the health law. Those ads telegraph the broader message against Dems in 2014: Obama lied about keeping your coverage; your premiums are skyrocketing; you can’t keep your doctor; etc.

Here’s how Democrats are fighting back on Obamacare. The template for the Dem response to such attacks over the law can be seen in this new ad that the Dem-allied House Majority PAC is running on behalf of Dem Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona, a top target of Koch ads:

Democratic operatives tell me that this basic message is, broadly speaking, how Dems will respond (where appropriate) to attacks over the law. The ad says:

Ann Kirkpatrick listens and learns. It’s why she blew the whistle on the disastrous health care website, calling it “stunning ineptitude,” and worked to fix it. She fought to hold insurance companies accountable, so they can’t deny coverage for preexisting conditions, or drop coverage when you get sick. Ann Kirkpatrick. Seeing what’s wrong. Doing what’s right.

This is exactly what Democrats should say about the law. The rollout was disastrous and unforgivable. But note how this ad seamlessly transitions from calling for the rollout problems to be fixed, to standing behind its core goal of protecting people from the sorts of abuses that characterized the old system. These really are components of the same message: we need to continue to fix health care, and going back to the way things were is unthinkable. The ad doesn’t mention “Obamacare,” but it stands up for fundamental principles it embodies that remain popular.

Arizona’s First will be an interesting test case for this response. It is a pure “toss up” race in a large, rural swing district. Meanwhile, you see variations of this from other Democrats. Senate candidates like Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky and Michelle Nunn in Georgia don’t embrace the law, but they say we should continue fixing it, rather than throwing it out and returning to the old system, and both stand behind its core goal of expanding coverage to those who lack it.

This general approach is rooted in the belief of Dem pollsters that “fix and improve” is ultimately a better message than “repeal and replace with nothing,” which is the de facto GOP position. But ultimately, it’s really about fighting the health care war to a draw by neutralizing the issue. The implicit message: Okay, the health law is unpopular and far from perfect, and there’s reason for skepticism on how much it will improve things, given the depths of the health system’s problems, but giving it a chance is more constructive than blowing it up for political reasons, which is all Republicans know how to do.

Perhaps the Next Big Obamacare Disaster predicted by the law’s foes will make this approach harder to sustain. The alternative, though, is that if the law moves forward with some success, it could embolden Dems to embrace this approach while intensifying their attacks on the consequences of repeal. Enrollment continues to surge in 2014 in some states. Influential business groups such as the Business Roundtable are increasingly accepting the law, even discussing it as an entitlement similar to Medicare and Social Security. And insurers who have staked huge money on the law’s success think the law will be just fine.

* OBAMA RUNNING OUT OF TIME ON ECONOMY: Zachary Goldfarb has a sobering piece detailing how Congressional stalemate has effectively constrained Obama from acting to prod along the recovery, leaving him no choice but to resort to executive actions that are far less ambitious than anything he’d hoped:

Obama begins 2014 with none of the boundless hope that characterized the start of his second term last year, when the president believed that his sizable reelection victory might break the Republican “fever” opposed to his policies…Instead, he got the deep spending cuts known as sequestration, a partial government shutdown and a botched health-care launch. Now, with the midterm elections and bitter congressional division casting a long shadow over his sixth year in office, Obama and his senior aides are fighting the perception that they are out of time to make progress on his priorities.

It doesn’t help matters that Republicans now believe they can profit politically in 2014 from a sluggish recovery.

* DON’T REJOICE OVER PASSAGE OF BUDGET: Related to the above: Norm Ornstein has a good column arguing that the passage of the budget bill yesterday is small consolation indeed, given that Congressional dysfunction has still left us spending too little to properly invest in the economy and the future. And this:

With but 97 days in partial or full session set for the 113th House; with a barren agenda other than investigating Obamacare, and probably Benghazi and the IRS; with the farm bill foundering yet again; and with the bitter partisan dynamic on display in the Senate over UI, the signs of life are slim. So a Congress-watcher and Congress-lover will give the appropriators their due, be grateful for small pleasures — and brace for more of the usual in the rest of 2014.

The big story here is that expectations for Congress have now fallen so low that we see it as a victory when Congress manages to do less harm to the economy than it would be doing if many lawmakers got their way.

* GOP TO EMBRACE LEGALIZATION PROPOSAL? Politico has new details on the immigration reform “principles” that House Republicans are set to roll out:

The document, which has been kept under wraps until now, will call for beefed-up border security and interior enforcement, a worker verification system for employers and earned legal status for the nation’s undocumented immigrants, according to multiple sources familiar with the discussions. It will also call for reforms to visa programs and a system to track those in the country legally.

The legalization is key. As detailed here yesterday, if Republicans embrace some form of legalization in a way that’s designed to achieve genuine compromise with Democrats, rather than just to demonstrate a willingness to deal with the issue for political reasons, comprehensive reform remains possible.

* QUOTE OF THE DAY, POST-POLICY GOP EDITION: From the above Politico story, NRCC chair Greg Walden explains why Republicans may not embrace immigration reform, at least right now:

“I think it’s been made more problematic because now people can say the president waives parts of laws he doesn’t like. And he has.”

You can bet the silly argument that Obamacare shows the president won’t honor the enforcement end of any immigration deal will be a widely-employed excuse for inaction — even on immigration policies Republicans themselves support.

* OBAMA’S LEGACY ON THE LINE WITH NSA SPEECH: With the president set to deliver a speech tomorrow outlining his NSA reforms, Peter Baker has an interesting look at his evolution from a critic of the surveillance state to a defender of many of its tactics, one supposedly driven by his belief that its techniques are necessary to keep Americans safe. This, from Anthony Romero of the ACLU, gets it right:

“If the speech is anything like what is being reported, the president will go down in history for having retained and defended George W. Bush’s surveillance programs rather than reformed them.”

Reports indicate Obama’s reforms will not fundamentally alter the government’s access to metadata. But he will also ask lawmakers for their input on further reforms, so this argument will continue.

* WHY OBAMA IS TURNING TO CONGRESS ON NSA: The Post has a good piece detailing the rationale behind soliciting help from lawmakers in determining the future of NSA surveillance, quoting one expert explaining it this way: “Congress has a responsibility to establish limits on government surveillance, so it’s entirely appropriate that Congress weigh in on the phone records program.”

There will be a lot of grumbling to the effect that Obama is passing the buck to Congress, but real Congressional oversight in determining the program’s future could help bring about real reform.

* AND REPUBLICANS REMAIN CERTAIN OF OBAMACARE’S COLLAPSE: National Journal has an interesting look at divisions among House Republicans: While conservatives want to move “big, bold legislation,” House GOP leaders want to sit tight and “run out the clock” through Election Day 2014. Why? Because of this:

GOP leadership has been under siege for months as Republican lawmakers have begged them to bring an alternative plan to the floor for a vote. But just as they did in 2013, Boehner’s team appears content to sit back and bet on Obamacare collapsing under its own weight this year — angering Republicans who say such a strategy plays into Obama’s accusation that the GOP has no ideas of its own.

Okay, so Obamacare’s implosion may well produce a glorious GOP triumph in 2014. But what if the law doesn’t implode? Is there a Plan B here?

What else?

Also on The Plum Line

Happy Hour Roundup