Joe Manchin’s Obamacare fears — and why they matter

During a Friday year-end news conference, President Obama sought to look forward, not backward.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) (Reuters) Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) (Reuters)

He underscored an improving economy and the desire to find some common ground on the issue of immigration reform, which he noted that even some Republicans have shown some willingness to work over.

But the reality remains this: Even as the Obama administration has addressed -- and fixed -- many of the problems with the rollout of Obamacare, it remains the dominant political story headed into a 2014 filled with uncertainty. And the political book on the president's signature health-care law may just be getting started.

Just ask Joe Manchin, who is pushing for a one-year delay in the individual mandate.

The West Virginia Democratic senator said Sunday that the federal health-care law could be headed for a "complete meltdown" if costs rise too fast and individuals are not happy with their coverage. And really, red and swing state Democrats like Manchin are the ones worth listening to on the issue of Obamacare, at least in the context of politics.

How's it it playing? Only as badly or as well as they see it in their public comments.

"If it's so much more expensive than what we anticipated, and if the coverage is not as good as what we've had, you've got a complete meltdown at that time," said Manchin (D-W.Va.) on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

That of course, is a sort of worst-case-scenario view. But preparing for the worst possible scenario is what red and swing state Democrats like Manchin will be doing throughout the course of the next year. If problems with the health-care law continue, you will start to hear Democrats from states in which Obama is unpopular distance themselves even more from him.

If the law's image improves, you will hear less of that. And that will mean more political capital for Obama to address issues like the economy -- or maybe even immigration.

Then, Republicans eager to shepherd immigration reform may grow increasingly open to working with the president on a modest bill that meets his requirements. And there may be more common fiscal ground to be found for congressional Republicans and the White House -- some of which was paved in the bipartisan budget plan that passed this year.

But for now at least, the health-care law looks to remain the dominant issue. And how it proceeds headed into the new year will determine a lot, even on issues that have nothing to do with health care.

Fixbits:

Manchin also said Obama is not friendly enough with senators.

Mike Huckabee said the odds of him running for president again are about 50-50.

Obama mistakenly said Edward Snowden had been indicted.

A battle over Obamacare has erupted in Maryland.

Unemployment is at its lowest level in at least four years in 27 states.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) could stand to benefit from the exit of Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.).

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) discussed the death of his son.

Must-reads:

"HealthCare.gov contract: Politics not a factor, but neither were firm’s ties to failed projects" -- Jerry Markon and Alices Crites, Washington Post

"For official Washington, a truly horrible year" -- Dan Balz, Washington Post

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

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Chris Cillizza · December 20, 2013

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