January 24

There are increasing signs that the GOP’s total war opposition to Obamacare is becoming tougher to sustain. The basic organizing principle – that only maximum resistance is acceptable in the face of such an existential threat to American freedom – is still widely dominant. But there are scattered indications it’s giving way to an implicit acknowledgment that the law’s fundamental goal — expanding health coverage and security to those who lack it, through more federal oversight and spending – has some moral validity.

Late yesterday, Utah governor Gary Herbert announced that the state will expand Medicaid to cover more of the uninsured. There are two possible mechanisms to do this, but both would spend more federal money to expand coverage to tends of thousands. His quote was telling: “Doing nothing…I’ve taken off the table. Doing nothing is not an option.” He added that it is “not fair” to allow some 60,000 Utah residents to fall into the “Medicaid gap.”

Doing nothing in the face of Obamacare’s offer of cash for states to cover their uninsured is precisely the response foes prefer — partly because such coverage will be so hard to take away. Several other GOP-controlled states are also looking for their own ways to opt in to the Medicaid expansion — which is to say, to accept federal money to expand coverage while achieving nominal distance from Obamacare.

Meanwhile, the GOP Senate candidate in West Virginia, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, now has this to say about the Medicaid expansion: “coverage is great and having more people covered is excellent.” In West Virginia, some 75,000 people have enrolled. Even in red states, gung-ho repeal advocates such as Capito feel the need to reconcile themselves to expanded coverage as a positive development.

(In Kentucky, another red state where coverage is expanding, Mitch McConnell has struggled to respond when asked directly about people benefitting, and he’s rolled out new ads touting work bringing more health care to sick people — implicitly ceding some ground to the moral argument for health reform.)

All of this comes as House Republicans are essentially admitting in internal discussions that there will be no serious Obamacare showdown in the next debt ceiling fight. And a new CBS News poll finds that while 50 percent disapprove of the law, the absolutist position is a minority one:

Which comes closest to your view about the 2010 health care law?

The law is working well and should be kept in place as is: 6

There are some good things in the law, but some changes are needed to make it work better: 56

The law has so much wrong with it that it needs to be repealed entirely: 34

A solid majority thinks there are good things in the law, even if it needs changes, while barely more than a third supports the idea that it’s a disaster that must be eliminated entirely. The latter is driven almost entirely by Republicans. Among them, 69 percent support repeal, while independents tilt in favor of keeping it by 65-35.

That last finding is probably why many Republicans will maintain a total war posture against the law, at odds with majorities. Many GOP governors will keep holding out against the expansion, leaving millions uninsured. It’s certainly possible more problems later will galvanize resistance. The law’s long term prospects still remain up in the air. But for now, as enrollment mounts, cracks in the resistance are increasingly visible.

* OBAMA APPROVAL BOUNCING BACK A BIT? The CBS News poll mentioned above finds the public split on Obama, at 46-47, with his approval rating rising some nine points from a low of 37 percent in November, amid the disastrous health care rollout. The poll could be a bit of an outlier — the Real Clear Politics average has him at 43.2 percent — or it could be a harbinger of improvement to come in other polls. We’ll see.

*WIDESPREAD DISAPPROVAL OF OBAMA ON NSA: One other striking finding in the CBS poll: only 35 percent approve of Obama’s handling of NSA surveillance, while 49 percent disapprove. This is one of the worst numbers for him in this poll. There is still time for Congress — and members of the public who care about this issue — to prod the administration towards more far-reaching NSA reform than the president has been willing to entertain thus far.

* SOLID SUPPORT FOR IMMIGRATION REFORM: One last finding from the CBS poll: 54 percent support allowing illegal immigrants to apply for citizenship, while another 12 percent support allowing them to stay legally without any opportunity for citizenship, and 31 percent support full deportation.

As always, the GOP fallback position — legalization but no citizenship — falls between two stools and pleases no one.

* REPUBLICANS DEBATE WHAT RANSOM TO DEMAND NEXT: Reuters has an interesting look at the debate underway among Republicans over how they should approach the next debt limit fight:

Congressional Republicans are showing little stomach for another bruising fight over the U.S. debt limit next month, but they do want to extract some concessions in exchange for expanding the Treasury’s borrowing authority…The options range from demands for expanded offshore energy production to small tweaks in President Barack Obama’s healthcare law to approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Another idea put forth would involve overhauling federal job-training programs, an element in a House Republican jobs bill that has gotten no traction in the Senate.

As always, the one thing Republicans agree on is there must be debt limit extortion for the sake of extortion itself. But let’s mark it down as an improvement that they are only debating demanding “small tweaks” to Obamacare.

* YES, OBAMA SHOULD KEEP TALKING ABOUT INEQUALITY: With some insisting that the debate over inequality is a distraction from the focus on jobs, Paul Krugman has a good column urging the president to keep it up:

As a political matter, inequality and macroeconomic policy are already inseparably linked. It has been obvious for a long time that the deficit obsession that has exerted such a destructive effect on policy these past few years isn’t really driven by worries about the federal debt. It is, instead, mainly an effort to use debt fears to scare and bully the nation into slashing social programs..The flip side of this attempt to use fiscal scare tactics to worsen inequality is that highlighting concerns about inequality can translate into pushback against job-destroying austerity, too.

As noted here yesterday, people say they hate “government” and “spending,” but when you put those things in the context of the debate over inequality and economic fairness, suddenly majorities support redistributionist policies and activist government.

* AND ANTI-GAY ACTIVISTS ARE WINNING! (IN AFRICA AND RUSSA): Alex Seitz-Wald has a fascinating look at how anti-gay activists are taking their cause abroad with real success, which .This can perhaps be seen as a sign of defeat here at home — where majorities now favor gay marriage; it’s getting legalized in state after state; and some leading conservatives don’t seem to have the stomach for this fight anymore — but it’s a reminder that elsewhere, the story is very different.

By the way, National Journal has a special issue devoted to “gay Washington” that’s worth a look.

What else?