How the political battle over Obamacare is like ‘Groundhog Day’

Stop us if you've heard this one before.

(Columbia Pictures via IMDB)
(Columbia Pictures via IMDB)

A conservative group ties a congressional Democrat to President Obama's refrain that all Americans could stay on their health insurance plans after implementation of the federal health-care law. The Democrat's campaign responds by pointing to her effort to push Obama to live up to his word.

That's what happened in the Louisiana Senate race Thursday. It's a scene that has played out before and promises to repeat itself again and again across the map in 2014. In the political showdown over Obamacare, the battle lines are, to a large extent, already drawn. And that makes for a landscape that's shaping up to resemble the film "Groundhog Day."

In the movie, TV weatherman Phil Connors, played by Bill Murray, finds himself in a seemingly endless cycle of repeating the same day over and over again -- to the point that he is able to anticipate what's about to happen.

That's where the political realm is right now in the health-care tussle. The conservative group Americans for Prosperity released a TV ad Thursday reminding voters of Obama's if-you-like-it-you-can-keep-it line, which was revealed last year to be inaccurate. The spot then shows Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) echoing the president's refrain in her own words.

If the advertisement sounds familiar it's because it is. The group released similar commercials targeting Sens. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.). The spots followed another Shaheen ad from a different conservative group that deployed the same formula.

Unless and until the public changes its opinion about the president and his health-care law, it's a recipe Republican groups and candidates are expected to use this year. A lot.

Obama's vow that all Americans could keep their plans -- judged to be the "Lie of the Year" by the fact-checking Web site Politifact -- has diminished Americans' trust and confidence in him. Americans were split over the question of whether Obama is honest and trustworthy in a December Washington Post-ABC News poll. Fourteen months prior, a clear majority (56 percent) said they trusted the president.

The December poll also showed most Americans (62 percent) disapproving of the way Obama handled the implementation of his signature health-care law. So, it makes complete sense that Republicans would plan to flood the airwaves with ads against vulnerable Democrats mentioning Obama and health care as much as possible.

For those Democrats -- Landrieu is clearly one -- the counter-punch strategy has been pretty consistent: Distance oneself from the president on health care and point to where one has sought to pressure him on the matter.

"The fact is Sen. Landrieu has always supported measures to fix and improve the Affordable Care Act. She introduced legislation to keep the president's promise," said Landrieu campaign manager Adam Sullivan.

Sullivan largely echoed the thrust of Landrieu's first ad, in which she touted her plan to allow Americans to stay on their plans. The ad also suggested that her pressure helped lead to the president announcing a change in policy to clear the way for Americans facing plan terminations to extend their coverage temporarily. Meanwhile, Shaheen has separately proposed her own Obamacare fix.

It's true that the ways Republicans attack Obamacare and the ways Democrats defend themselves could change in the lead-up to the November election. But for now, there are no signs of that happening. Instead, it's Groundhog Day. Over and over again.

Fixbits:

Embattled Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.) is returning to Congress next week.

Meanwhile a super PAC supporting a potential Radel primary opponent has already raised seven figures.

Likely Democratic nominee Alex Sink is winning the fundraising battle in Florida's 13th district special election campaign.

Republican David Young is ending his Senate bid to run for the seat of retiring Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa).

About six in 10 uninsured Americans who have visited an insurance exchange Web site rate their experience as negative, Gallup poling shows.

Former defense secretary Robert Gates will proceed with a book tour despite sustaining an injury.

North Carolina state House Speaker Thom Tillis (R) released his first Senate ad.

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush (R) has a new granddaughter.

Must-reads: 

"NSA seeks to build quantum computer that could crack most types of encryption" -- Steven Rich and Barton Gellman, Washington Post

"At Work, Mayor Finds Full Plate of Headaches" -- Michael M. Grynbaum, New York Times

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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