So Kathleen Sebelius is stepping down as head of Health and Human Services, resigning her position as chief engineer of Obamacare’s implementation. The disastrous rollout did a lot of damage, and we’re now seeing accountability.
Republicans are already salivating at the prospect of confirmation hearings for her successor, and their response to the resignation says a lot about the current state of the debate over Obamacare. In short, as enrollment continues to mount, Republicans are retreating to a fallback position, which is that Obamacare cannot work by definition.
Here’s Eric Cantor: “I thank Secretary Sebelius for her service. She had an impossible task: nobody can make Obamacare work.”
Here’s Chuck Grassley: “Anybody put in charge of Obamacare would be set up to fail.”
Here’s Mitch McConnell: “Sebelius may be gone, but the problems with this law and the impact it’s having on our constituents aren’t. Obamacare has to go too.” As always, with McConnell, the law’s beneficiaries simply don’t exist.
Last fall, as the law got underway and as the website then crashed, the Republican position was essentially that the law was fatally flawed (nobody wanted it, supposedly) and thus would inevitably fail to fulfill its own goals. Now that the law has hit enrollment targets, and evidence comes in that it is for now on track, the Republican position is that the law is a failure even if it is more or less doing what it was designed to do — cover a lot more people. Indeed, one way to describe the GOP position is that Republicans think the law is an inherent failure precisely because it is doing what it was designed to do.
The Republican position — that the law can’t work by definition — is essentially an admission that Republicans simply don’t support doing what Obamacare sets out to do: Expand coverage to the number of people the law hopes to cover, through a combination of increased government oversight over the health system and — yep — spending money. The GOP focus on only those being negatively impacted by the law, and the aggressive hyping of cancellations into “millions” of full blown “horror stories” — combined with the steadfast refusal to acknowledge the very existence of the law’s beneficiaries — is, at bottom, just another way to fudge the actual GOP position: Flat out opposition to doing what it takes to expand health care to lots and lots of people.
Sometimes Republicans are candid about this position, such as when Paul Ryan forthrightly admitted that once Obamacare is repealed, its popular provisions should not be restored because it would be too expensive. Others, however, recognize the political problem here, and continue to say they support Obamacare’s general goals while declining to detail how a replacement would accomplish them. The problem for Republicans is that they want to persuade folks that they, too, support these general goals — hence the perpetual promise of vague alternatives — but this posture is fundamentally incompatible with the idea that Obamacare cannot work by definition, because there’s no alternative way to accomplish those goals at the law’s scale.
Politico reports this morning that Republicans are convinced that the Sebelius resignation opens the door for confirmation hearings that will shower them with political riches. I believe that, despite persistent disapproval of the law, the bulk of the polling suggests the American mainstream generally agrees Obamacare is the only set of solutions we have (with single payer being a political impossibility), wants to give it a chance to work, and doesn’t believe there is any Republican alternative. Majorities (except for Republicans) want to move on from the Obamacare debate. More hearings aren’t going to change that.
* A FAIR TAKE ON SEBELIUS’ RESIGNATION: On the same day Sebelius resigned, we also learned Obamacare signups had hit 7.5 million. Jonathan Cohn has a balanced assessment of her tenure, asserting the website failure demanded accountability, but reminding us what matters most:
That 7.5 million figure she announced on Thursday is a genuinely big deal — particularly since, from what I hear, the final number is likely to be even higher. It’s now clear that Obamacare is succeeding in one of its primary goals — reducing the number of Americans without health insurance. The only question is by how much….The memories of Obamacare’s difficult start will certainly linger. But to the millions of people around the country who now have access to affordable medical care, I’m not sure that really matters.
Just as the law is on track despite the disastrous rollout, so has public opinion mostly reverted to where it was. And once again, majorities (except for Republicans) want to move past the Obamacare debate.
* THE REAL OBAMACARE NIGHTMARE: Mitch McConnell likes to refer to the “Obamacare nightmare.” Paul Krugman notes that the real story is that Republicans have been caught flat-footed by Obamacare actually working and expanding coverage to millions, and continue to hold out against the Medicaid expansion in many states, which will harm untold numbers of people:
But nobody expects to see a lot of prominent Republicans declaring that rejecting Medicaid expansion is wrong, that caring for Americans in need is more important than scoring political points against the Obama administration…there’s an extraordinary ugliness of spirit abroad in today’s America, which health reform has brought out into the open. And that revelation, not reform itself — which is going pretty well — is the real Obamacare nightmare.
McConnell, for his part, continues to hang by his fingernails on to the false suggestion that more people in his home state — where hundreds of thousands have signed up through the state exchange — have lost coverage than have gained it.
* SENATE DEMS WAITING OUT OBAMACARE ATTACKS: Politico’s Manu Raju reports that vulnerable Dem incumbents are largely sitting on their cash, rather than respond to Americans for Prosperity’s millions in attack ads, with a plan to go on the offensive later:
They’re gambling that it makes far more sense to build a sizable war chest and hold off until closer to the election to engage their opponents in an expensive TV war. The idea: Absorb the ads from the conservative group Americans for Prosperity now and hope some help from their Democratic allies, like the Senate Majority PAC, helps to keep their races competitive. Then, when the time comes, unleash a flurry of attacks that will give them a late bounce and potentially victory come November.
The problem for Dems is that outside groups on their side have not matched AFP’s spending, so this is a risky approach. But, when evaluating the polling showing these incumbents in such a tough spot, it’s worth recalling that Dems — who have been raising a lot of cash — have not seriously engaged yet.
* DEMS PLAN HUGE TURNOUT EFFORT IN 2014: The Rothenberg Political Report’s Nathan Gonzalez has a fascinating look at Dem plans to turn out African American voters in red state Senate races:
Democratic strategists believe there is low-hanging fruit in the black populations in Arkansas and Louisiana, where Democrats are defending seats, because those states never saw a well-financed and organized get-out-the-vote effort from President Barack Obama’s campaign…Part of that effort is focused on boosting black turnout from traditional midterm levels to something closer to presidential levels in Arkansas and Louisiana, as well as one of the Democrats’ best pickup opportunities in Georgia, and potentially Michigan and North Carolina.
The push for a minimum wage hike is central to getting out this core constituency. Also, even if Obamacare is unpopular in these states, some Dems will emphasize the Medicaid expansion where appropriate.
* THE LATEST ON NORTH CAROLINA GOP SENATE PRIMARY: A new poll commissioned by the Rove-founded American Crossroads finds establishment pick Thom Tillis leading with 27 percent, with Tea Partyer Greg Brannon at 16 percent. Crossroads backs Tillis. This puts Tillis well short of the 40 percent he needs in the May 6th primary to avoid a runoff, which could mean the big conservative groups come in to battle the establishment (such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce), pushing the selection of a nominee all the way into July.
* HOW REPUBLICANS WILL ATTACK HILLARY CLINTON: You’ll be startled to hear, per the Wall Street Journal, that Republicans plan to build an attack on Hillary Clinton in advance of 2016 that turns heavily on Benghazi:
Their case comes down to several points. They say she should be held accountable for the 2012 terrorist attacks at a diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans. They contend she accomplished little as the nation’s top diplomat, with no major peace deal to show for all the miles she racked up….Finally, Republicans hope to make Mrs. Clinton the face of what they say was a misguided attempt to “reset” relations with a Russian government that has menaced Ukraine and its neighbors.
Surely Clinton’s tenure at State will be the subject of legitimate and difficult-to-answer criticism, but it’s hard to imagine the focus on Benghazi in particular having resonance for anyone but the GOP base.
* AND HERE COMES SCOTT BROWN’S PICKUP TRUCK: Scott Brown is up with a new ad in New Hampshire featuring that ol’ pickup truck, which he hopes to ride right into the Senate, after driving it over from Massachusetts. The spot claims: “People want a health care system that works for New Hampshire.”
Pretty much the entire rationale for Brown’s candidacy is that Obamacare is a disaster. So where does he stand on the Medicaid expansion that’s moving forward in this state and will cover tens of thousands of the people he wants to represent?