Can Democrats avoid a circular firing squad on Obamacare? The early signs aren’t promising.

November 18, 2013

Democrats have met the political enemy heading into the 2014 midterms -- and it is them.


Friday's vote on a Republican plan that would allow people who liked their insurance to keep it drew more than three dozen Democratic defections, the vast majority of whom sit in districts that will be targeted by Republicans in 2014. Meanwhile, in the Senate, a handful of the most vulnerable Democrats up for reelection in 2014 -- Louisiana's Mary Landrieu is leading the charge -- were working on a similar effort.

All of that movement came within hours of a Thursday news conference by President Obama that was clearly aimed at calming the building political storm, particularly within his own party. Obama and his team had clearly hoped that allowing people to keep their insurance plans through 2014 if they so chose would keep Democratic defections on the "Keep Your Health Plan Act" in the House to a minimum and end -- or at least sap political energy from -- efforts by Democratic senators to amend the law. It did neither.

And, in the aftermath of the House vote, leading Democrats acknowledged that it was primarily politics that led to the large number of Democrats breaking with the president. "The fact of the matter is about 30 of them, and I've talked to them, were insulating themselves against sound bites," said Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn (S.C.) during an appearance Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union."

Inherent in Clyburn's statement is the fact that for Democrats in swing districts -- and, by extension, swing states -- Obamacare is a losing issue from which, for political reasons, they need to distance themselves. That mindset leads to a slippery political slope for congressional Democrats and the White House. If the politically "safe" vote for vulnerable Democrats becomes voting against the president on his health-care law, it raises the real possibility that Congress could wage serious efforts to unravel parts of the law. And if the law starts to collapse under its own weight, it's difficult to see that being a good thing -- or even a neutral thing -- for Democrats at the ballot box in 2014.

The choices before Democrats are difficult: Stick with Obama on a law that has shown major technical and political problems in hopes things get better, or begin to splinter off in an every-man-for-himself approach that has significant political peril attached to it as well.

Fixbits: 

The D.C. insurance commissioner was fired after questioning the Obamacare fix.

It's Cheney vs. Cheney on gay marriage.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) said the GOP's 2016 ticket ought to feature governors, not members of Congress.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sought to downplay the impact of the House Democrats who crossed party lines to vote with Republicans to alter Obamacare last week.

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) was in New Hampshire over the weekend, while Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was in Iowa.

Businessman Vance McAllister (R) won Louisiana's 5th District special election Saturday in an upset.

"I am on the bandwagon for Hillary Clinton in 2016," said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

The DSCC raised $4.8 million in October, while the NRSC raised $3.8 million.

Must-reads:

"Sheldon Adelson, top 2012 donor and casino magnate, readies to fight Internet gambling" -- Peter Wallsten and Tom Hamburger, Washington Post

"Obamacare failures are not a cure for the GOP" -- Chris Cillizza, Washington Post

"The Environmental Promise Obama Completely Abandoned" -- Patrick Reis, National Journal

"Coal Fires Up Two Key Senate Races in 2014" -- Kyle Trygstad, Roll Call

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Sean Sullivan | November 17, 2013