The National Republican Senatorial Committee is blasting out e-mails about vulnerable Democratic incumbents, calling them to account for their votes for Obamacare. A sample: “CNN’s Wolf Blitzer reported that the ‘Obama administration is conceding that some people, yes some people, will have to pay more’ for health care premiums due to ObamaCare. But Kay Hagan also misled North Carolinians on Obamacare.” (The only variation in these is the name of the embattled Senate Democrat.) Can the GOP win back the Senate on Obamacare?
Well, it is a good place to start. From the ballooning costs of insurance to the loss of the insurance you were told you could keep to the drag on employment, Obamacare is proving to be one of the most ineptly designed and counterproductive pieces of legislation in modern times. The first word of the legislation — “affordable” — was an unfortunate choice, given the reality of cost escalation.
It is of course lucky for the GOP that every Democratic senator who voted for cloture was technically the 60th vote, thus providing every competitive Republican with an easy target. What is telling is the dearth of Democratic senators at risk who seem prepared to run on Obamacare.
The 2012 election proved not to be a referendum on Obamacare in part because Mitt Romney didn’t offer a compelling alternative and in part because he chose to focus almost exclusively on the economy. But 2014 is a different matter. None of the GOP contenders will have voted for or supported Obamacare or any state version thereof. None will be focusing so obsessively on the economy to the exclusion of other issues. And none will lack evidence that even Democrats understand their legislation is deeply flawed (e.g., the lopsided vote to repeal the medical device tax).
However, what they will need is a credible alternative plan or at the very least a series of reforms that will highlight the biggest problems with the Obamacare monstrosity. These might include repealing the medical device tax, allowing the minimum required insurance to include cheaper catastrophic plans, reforming Medicaid before adding to its rolls, repealing the Independent Payment Advisory Board and leveling the playing field by treating individual and employer-provided health-care plans similarly under the tax code. What won’t work is to broad-brush their argument with a nonspecific pledge to favor “market-based” insurance or to “increase individual insurance options.” Many voters have no idea what that means.
President Obama in 2012 used “The Life of Julia” storybook ad to highlight all the great things the welfare state does for single women. How about the “Life of Ricardo,” illustrating how Obamacare is going to mess up the health insurance and employment opportunities for a middle-class father, and how a GOP alternative would work?
The old adage is that instead of telling viewers/listeners/readers what your argument is, you have to show them. If Republican Senate candidates can do that in 2014, avoid offending large segments of the electorate and present a series of popular conservative reform ideas (e.g., school choice, tax reform), they might wind up in the majority.