The Obama administration says it has turned a corner in the fight over the Affordable Care Act: the announcement of millions of new enrollees has allowed it to begin showcasing stories of people’s lives being improved by the law.
At the same time, Republicans are telegraphing their next attack: Sowing doubts about those same enrollment numbers (no matter what they actually show) to prove the law is an epic catastrophe.
GOP Rep. Eric Cantor is circulating a memo that says Republicans will vote on a proposal to require the government to notify people if personal info has been breached on HealthCare.gov. The administration says there have been no such breaches, and as Steve Benen notes, this could be about trying to scare people from enrolling more than anything else. Beyond this, though, note this from Cantor’s memo:
“In the coming weeks, we will continue to address other areas where greater transparency is demanded, including the disclosure of reliable and complete enrollment data.”
So expect votes on proposals to require the administration to provide more detail about enrollment numbers — who is paying for insurance, as opposed to merely enrolling — and the demographic mix of enrollees. These votes will be partly about reassuring the base that GOP leaders are still taking the fight to Obamacare, dammit!!!
Now, health reform advocates with an interest in seeing the law succeed care very much about seeing transparency when it comes to these numbers. Framed as a political attack coming from a party that wants to see the law fail, however, at what point does this kind of stuff get tuned out by voters as so much Beltway white noise?
Majorities will almost certainly continue to disapprove of the law deep into 2014. That’s real. However, the law may well mostly remain on probation for many voters — repeal will likely continue to be a minority position in most polls, particularly after the hangover of the initial rollout fiasco recedes. Dems will continue advocating for keeping and fixing the law, to put distance between themselves and its problems — in hopes of fighting Republicans to a draw over health care, to make 2014 about other issues.
Dems could well lose a lot of Senate seats next fall — whether it will be enough to tip the Senate is an open question — and perhaps Obamacare will be a leading reason why. But that will turn on how well the law works over time on multiple fronts, and people’s direct experience of it, not on short term skirmishes over enrollment targets. Other potential problems certainly loom. But at the same time, the number of beneficiaries will continue to mount. If the law works even moderately well, the alternative Dems hope for is also possible. As Brian Beutler explains, more and more voters may well “know people whose lives are better as a result of Obamacare,” allowing Dem candidates to “regain confidence in their ability to run on a platform of keeping and improving it.”
If enrollment falls even just short of the seven million target initially articulated by the Congressional Budget Office and the administration, foes will brandish this as proof the law has collapsed entirely, along with everything else that has already proven this beyond any doubt whatsoever. If the target is hit, which is also very possible, opponents will shriek about how the numbers are scandalously faked, as if we’re seeing the next Benghazi. But will any of this resonate with anyone other than GOP base voters who are deeply invested in seeing the law fail? Doubtful. The bottom line is that such short term spin wars just aren’t going to matter much, if at all.
* ABOUT THE ADMINISTRATION’S 7 MILLION ENROLLMENT TARGET: Glenn Kessler takes a look at the administration’s efforts to downplay its initial suggestion that one measure of Obamacare success would be seven million enrollments by March 31st. As Kessler notes, we don’t know for certain how many of those enrollees will pay in the end, but officials believe the more relevant metric may be the demographic mix of enrollees, which, if flawed, could seriously complicate the law’s long term prospects.
As it happens, health reformers believe the seven million number should not be seen as some kind of magic benchmark, either for or against the law. Opponents will vehemently insist otherwise — unless the target is actually hit, of course.
* GET READY FOR THE OBAMACARE AD BLITZ: National Journal’s Sam Baker makes a critical point: Opponents of the law are not the only ones who will be on the airwaves in coming months.
For the most part, these campaigns will encourage people to enroll, rather than trying to sell the law politically. Although Obamacare still polls poorly, supporters firmly believe the answer is to show that it’s working — and that means getting people in the door. The Health and Human Services Department has reportedly reserved at least $12 million worth of TV ad time for spots promoting the health care law and encouraging people to enroll. Outside groups will spend even more.
And, of course, the insurance companies are expected to spend hundreds of millions to entice people to shop on the exchanges.
* WILL GOP EVER ACCEPT OBAMACARE? Eugene Robinson, in the course of arguing that the health law is here to stay, makes a good point here:
If Republicans in Congress would work with the administration to make technical corrections to the Affordable Care Act, they could claim a victory of sorts: Obama gave you this mess and we cleaned it up. But after demonizing the program — and the president — for so long, the party has painted itself into a corner.
Note to the GOP: “We refuse, under any circumstances, to make the law work better for the citizens we represent” is perhaps not the ideal campaign slogan for the midterm election.
There are in fact scenarios under which Republicans and Democrats enter into real negotiations over the future of the health law and health system, if Republicans can find their way through the Three Stages of Obamacare Acceptance.
* HOW DEMS WILL CAMPAIGN ON MINIMUM WAGE: Harold Meyerson’s column today examines Democratic plans to campaign on the minimum wage in 2014:
Democrats are working to put wage-increase initiatives before voters in states that will have contested House and Senate races in 2014, including Arkansas, Alaska, South Dakota and New Mexico. Such ballot measures have proved an effective way to increase turnout of low-income and minority voters, which can translate into more ballots cast for Democratic candidates.
I don’t know how much this will matter to the House or Senate maps, but this is the latest sign that “reducing economic inequality and boosting workers’ incomes,” as Meyerson puts it, will be increasingly central to the Democratic agenda as Dem activists nudge the party into a more economically progressive posture.
* KERRY FOCUSES ON CLIMATE CHANGE: The New York Times reports that John Kerry has quietly mobilized the State Department to focus on realizing a global climate change treaty reducing fossil fuel pollution by 2015. The main obstacle is the Senate, which would have to ratify such a treaty. But this is good news — it shows an administration commitment to moving a climate agenda, much of which will have to be done by executive action, given that one major party in Congress remains in the grip of climate denialism.
* CLIMATE TO BE MAJOR BATTLEGROUND IN 2014: The Hill reports that both sides are gearing up to make climate change a major issue in the 2014 midterm elections:
Republicans like Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell plan to go on the attack against President Obama’s climate action plan, which they have dubbed a “war on coal.”
And surely, red state Democrats will distance themselves from Obama’s plan. However, you also can expect environmental groups to keep up their campaign to try to make GOP climate denialism a liability.
* AND THE QUOTE OF THE DAY, OBAMACARE DERANGEMENT EDITION: Josh Marshall:
It is amazing to witness the sheer depths of rage, denial and disgust many people experience as they see millions of people gaining access to affordable health care for the first time.
Imagine the din if the numbers approach the seven million target.