Uh oh. Run for your lives, Democrats! Republicans are launching a major new attack on the Affordable Care Act!
The New York Times goes big with a new report detailing that House Republicans are launching a “multi-layered, sequenced assault” on Obamacare. It includes highlighting the stories of people feeling adverse effects from the law. Right now Republicans are spotlighting those losing plans and seeing premiums go up, but there’s more coming, including “a push to highlight people losing access to their longtime physicians and changes in Medicare Advantage programs for older people.”
House GOP leaders have distributed a new memo urging GOP lawmakers to ask constituents to relay stories about their negative experiences with the law, apparently for use against the law later.
What’s unclear is whether the new campaign will include a serious effort by Republicans to reach consensus on real alternative health reform proposals (such as ideas put forth by the Republican Study Committee, which aren’t a meaningful alternative to the law to begin with). I asked a House GOP aide if an alternative was forthcoming. Answer: “To be determined — of course, our ideas would be piecemeal.”
Only a few months ago, when the government shutdown was looming, GOP elders were warning darkly that the GOP position on health reform was unsustainable — that Republicans simply had to offer their own such alternative. Now, however, it seems likely that Obamacare’s awful rollout problems are only deepening the conviction among many Republicans that the law’s doom is absolutely inevitable — further postponing any need to articulate a serious health reform vision of their own.
Snark aside, Dems are obviously right to be worried about the law’s rollout problems. If the law fails over time, it will be a huge disaster for the party. In the short term, Republicans are doing a damn good job of highlighting individual tales that play against the law. Media coverage is giving more weight to these stories than to Obamacare’s successes. To be fair, successes are in shorter supply in part because the website failure is preventing many from accessing the law’s benefits. But even so, positive stories, such as those of people seeing their lives made better by the Medicaid expansion, are getting less attention. Exacerbating this problem, as Jonathan Cohn puts it, is that other Obamacare successes — such as the slowdown in rising health costs — are having an impact that is “largely invisible.”
The challenge for Dems is to effectively highlight these stories — ones that show the law improving people’s lives — and tie them to the larger contrast in visions between the parties, a contrast that turns on the fact that the de facto GOP position is to return to the old system. As I reported here, Dems are planning a campaign to reframe the debate over Obamacare, by moving away from the argument Republicans want — a referendum on the law — and recasting it as “fix” versus “repeal.”
But here, too, Dems face a problem: It’s hard to get reporters and commentators to take seriously the possibility that even if the law is a political albatross, the GOP position of repeal is a minority position, and it, too, could prove a real liability. Polling continues to confirm this even at this low moment for the law. GOP elders themselves essentially admitted it only a few months ago. But it just isn’t part of the media narrative.
* CONSERVATIVES SAY ANOTHER SHUTDOWN AIN’T HAPPENIN’: Related to the above: The Hill reports that Senate conservatives don’t see a need for another government shutdown to block Obamacare, because the current rollout problems show it is set to collapse on its own:
Republican lawmakers who pushed the government shutdown to stop ObamaCare say their new plan is to sit back and watch the law self-destruct. Sen. Mike Lee and other Tea Party allies of Sen. Ted Cruz say the threat of a shutdown is no longer necessary to defund the Affordable Care Act now that the administration’s rollout is flailing…“Leverage is building every day,” said Lee. “It won’t necessarily require us to rely on using the [continuing resolution].”
This again underscores the absolute conviction among Republicans that Obamacare’s total collapse is already sealed. Also, it suggests the law’s problems are restoring a semblance of unity among Republicans who had fractured badly over what tactics to use against the law. Of course, if it does work over time, those divisions will probably reassert themselves with a vengeance.
* HARRY REID READY TO GO NUCLEAR: The Post reports that it’s on:
According to senior Democratic aides, Majority Leader Harry M. Reid will set in motion a complicated parliamentary process that ends with a simple-majority vote setting a new rule that will allow for swift confirmation of executive branch nominees and most selections for the federal judiciary without having to clear a 60-vote hurdle.
Setting this in motion could still be abut forcing Republicans to capitulate and green-light Obama’s nominations to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. But if they don’t, Dems are being forced to choose between accepting the GOP blockade on Obama’s power to fill these judicial vacancies, and changing the rules.
* DEMS HAVE NO CHOICE BUT TO GO NUCLEAR: Also in the above Post piece, this puts the Dem threat to go nuclear in its proper perspective:
According to the Congressional Research Service, from 1967 through 2012, majority leaders had to file motions to try to break a filibuster of a judicial nominee 67 times — and 31 of those, more than 46 percent — occurred in the last five years of an Obama White House and Democratic majority.
I’d add that in this case, GOP filibustering of Obama’s nominations to the D.C. Circuit Court is not about the nominations themselves, but over whether the President should have the power to fill those vacancies at all.
* DOES REID HAVE THE VOTES? HuffPo tallies it up, and it looks awfully close:
It’s still not clear if Reid has the 51 votes to make the change, but it certainly looks close. There are 55 Democrats in total, which means Reid can lose up to four. HuffPost tracked down a number of Democrats on Tuesday to see who remains opposed to making the change, and only one, Sen. Carl Levin, said definitively no. A couple of others, Sens. Max Baucus and Claire McCaskill, avoided answering the question altogether.
As one aide to Reid told Sahil Kapur: “When he feels ready, he’ll do it.” We should find out today.
* OBAMACARE STILL PLAGUED BY BAD PROBLEMS: The New York Times reports that the “navigators,” i.e., those who are supposed to be helping people enroll on the exchanges, are still encountering a gamut of difficulties:
Navigators in states that depend on the federal insurance exchange say they still cannot get most of their clients through the online enrollment process…the closer people come to signing up for a plan, the more the system seems to freeze or fail, many navigators said. Administration officials say technicians have made significant improvements to sections that allow consumers to apply for insurance and compare health plans, and Mr. Obama this week encouraged people to continue trying to use the exchange. But those officials acknowledge that parts of the system are still not performing as well as they had hoped.
Here is the bright spot: “of more than about a dozen navigators and other enrollment counselors interviewed, most said their clients could now create logins and at least start the application process, a marked improvement.” But we should not have to see this as good news with nine days to go until the administration’s self-imposed deadline.
* GOP LIKELY TO RESIST EXTENSION OF UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS: The Wall Street Journal reports that Congressional Democrats are moving forward with a plan to extend unemployment benefits for 1.3 million people set to lose them at the end of the year, but that Republicans are already showing resistance. As a spokesman for John Boehner put sit:
“If the White House has a plan in mind we’ll take a look, but it would be better for the president to focus on helping the unemployed find jobs.”
But extending unemployment compensation would be good for the economy. As the Center on Budget Priorities points out in a must read, it would help stimulate a recovery that continues to be weighed down by austerity and lack of demand.
* AND AMERICANS DISAPPROVE OF OBAMA ON NSA: A new Washington Post/ABC News poll finds that majorities of Americans disapprove of Obama’s handling of NSA surveillance and think it intrudes on their privacy rights, while a plurality say it goes too far. And yet, despite this, majorities also support charging Edward Snowden with a crime and say his leaks damaged national security! Ah, the wonders of public opinion.