The notion that Obamacare’s implementation could become a major liability for Democrats in 2014 is gaining widespread currency, and today it’s the subject of a big New York Times piece reporting on confident predictions by Republicans that implementation problems will give them a powerful weapon against Dem candidates. Obama is set to do a series of events designed to educate the public on the challenges of implementing the law, beginning with one on Friday where he’ll promote the law’s benefits for women.
It strikes me that GOP Obamacare implementation triumphalism is a tad premature.
Here is how the Times characterizes the sentiment in Dem circles about the coming war over implementation:
Democrats are worried about 2014 — a president’s party typically loses seats in midterm years — and some have gone public with concerns about the pace of carrying out the law. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, told an interviewer last week that he agreed with a recent comment by Senator Max Baucus of Montana, a Democratic architect of the law, who said “a train wreck” could occur this fall if preparations fell short.
The White House has allayed some worries, with briefings for Democrats about their public education plans, including PowerPoint presentations that show areas with target populations down to the block level.
“There’s clearly some concern” among Democrats “that their constituents don’t yet have all facts on how it will work, and that Republicans are filling that vacuum with partisan talking points,” said Representative Steve Israel of New York, head of the House Democrats’ campaign committee. “And the administration must use every tool they have to get around the obstructions and make it work.”
Quotes like these are widely held up as evidence that Republicans are right that Obamacare implementation is shaping up as a major problem for Dems. But this amounts to a fundamental misreading of what it is these Dems are actually saying. Democrats are simply doing exactly what they should be doing — that is, calling for care and caution in the implementation of Obamacare, and calling for a serious effort to educate the public about the challenges and potential pitfalls it entails. This is not tantamount to running away from the law wholesale; nor is it a concession that implementation will amount to a major political albatross.
As Jonathan Cohn has detailed at length, it’s very possible there will be real problems with the health law’s implementation. If that happens, Republicans will relentlessly try to tie Dem candidates to those difficulties, in hopes for a rerun of 2010. But in 2010, public reactions to the new health law were largely suffused with deep anxiety about the severe economic crisis and uncertainty about the new president’s ability to cope with it. Republicans and allied groups made the assault on Obamacare central in 2012, in the presidential race and in many Senate contests, with absolutely nothing to show for it.
Will implementation make things different in 2014? By all means, the problems could be very real, particularly with Republicans intent on subverting implementation wherever possible. Dems should remain vigilant and prepare for turbulence. But they needn’t fret this too much. For one thing, as Josh Barro has noted, implementation is likely to be most keenly felt among those who currently lack insurance, who will naturally see getting insurance as a preferable outcome to nothing at all, even if proves logistically difficult.
Dem candidates can strike a balance here: They can call for careful implementation and criticize it when it goes awry, while standing squarely behind the law’s overall goal of expanding coverage to the millions of Americans who lack it. What’s more, they can continue to remind the public that Republicans are offering no alternative of their own and simply want to return the country to a pre-reform free-for-all that nobody, particularly the large ranks of the uninsured, wants. This position is the correct one to take, substantively and politically, and it shouldn’t be that hard to get the balance right. After all, whatever the unpopularity of Obamacare, offering nothing in the way of reform isn’t exactly a winning message, either. Major reforms are not easy, and Dems can say so, while pointing to the endless GOP drive to repeal the law to reinforce the notion that Republicans have no interest in actually addressing the country’s most pressing problems.
Dems should refrain from displays of political panic, since panicking is exactly what Republicans want them to do. “A lot of this is psychological warfare,” is how Dem strategist Doug Thornell recently put it. “I would tell Dems not to take the bait.” So would I.
* How conservatives will try to kill immigration reform: Republicans opposed to reform are planning to try to scuttle the bill at the Senate Judiciary Committee level with a whole host of poison pill amendments and other procedural tricks designed to undermine the measure’s fundamentals, such as the path to citizenship and the agreement on guest workers. This from leading foe Jeff Sessions gives away the game:
“The longer this legislation is available for public review, the worse it’s going to be perceived,” Mr. Sessions said Monday in a phone interview. “The longer it lays out there, the worse it’s going to smell. The tide is going to turn.”
That is a straight up admission that the real reason for calling for more time to review the bill is solely about giving opponents time to try to kill it.
* The last word on that Heritage “study”: The Post has an excellent editorial debunking that Heritage Foundation “study” that purported to show that immigration reform would cost the taxpayers trillions of dollars, without (incredibly) even taking into account the benefits legalization would produce for economic growth, the labor market, and increased revenues.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is expected to set the record straight soon with a real report on the bill’s impact, so watch for that.
* Will immigration reform include protections for LGBT couples? With the deadline for Judiciary Committee amendments looming, we may find out today whether Dems will try to force a vote inserting protections for LGBT couples into the Gang of Eight immigration compromise bill.
As I noted here recently, gay rights advocates have every reason to continue advocating for inclusion in the bill. If they succeed, great. If they fail, their criticism from the left may make it harder for the right to dismiss the compromise as liberal dream legislation.
* House bides its time on immigration: An interesting observation from the National Journal’s Chris Frates: Republicans in the House seem far more preoccupied with the coming debt ceiling battle than they do with the immigration fight. The dilemma:
House leaders must grapple with both the policy and political implications of immigration, including the hope that passing reform legislation will help Republicans attract Hispanic voters who have abandoned the party in droves over the past several years. But they can’t get too far out in front of a conservative conference that has shown little appetite, or understanding, of the complex issue.
Far easier to march into the debt ceiling battle!
* Protecting red state Dems on guns: Democratic leaders in the Senate are privately urging gun control forces to stop hitting red state Democrats with ads criticizing their vote against Manchin-Toomey, on the theory that Mark Pryor, for one, can’t be moved and that weakening him could help cost Dems the Senate in 2014.
Perhaps Pryor can’t be moved. But more broadly, the current dynamic — in which red state Dems have apparently decided that their constituents are more conservative than they actually are on guns — needs to be challenged.
* The latest on the Benghazi talking points: Glenn Kessler explains the latest round of charges from GOP officials and conservative media, with a focus on the White House having more of a role in rewriting the talking points than previously thought. It seems to me it all hinges on this statement from Hillary Clinton:
“The evidence was being sifted and analyzed by the intelligence community, which is why the intelligence community was the principal decider about what went into talking points. And there was also the added problem of nobody wanting to say things that would undermine the investigation.”
The White House may have been more involved in the rewriting of the talking points than previously thought, but it can also be true that they did, in fact, represent the best judgments of the intelligence community in real time while they were trying to determine what happened (something which will likely be subjected to more scrutiny in the days ahead).
* And Ted Cruz, “schoolyard bully”: Last night on the Senate floor, a lively exchange broke out between Harry Reid and Ted Cruz over the latter’s efforts to prevent budget negotiations from moving forward unless Dems made raising taxes or the debt ceiling out of order. Video here.
After his performance on guns, I guess it’s not surprising that Senator Cruz is apparently gearing up to demagogue on the debt ceiling, too. Also: Why are Republicans so reluctant to enter into budget negotiations?