(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The news that the demographic mix of Obamacare enrollees is not yet where the law’s proponents had hoped appears to have only reinforced the certainty in some quarters that the law’s epic collapse is underway. This, even though there are still two and a half months to go in the open enrollment period, and there are good reasons not to reach any broad conclusions just yet about the law’s long-term prospects.

However, in one sense it’s a positive for there to be as much certainty as possible among Republicans about the law’s inevitable doom.

Politico reports this morning that leading Republicans are leaning heavily against using the next debt limit fight to try to undermine the health law, having taken a beating in the last debt ceiling showdown. One of the reasons they are offering is that the law is imploding on its own:

Louisiana Rep. John Fleming, one of the most conservative House Republicans and a champion of the fall defund movement, said “Obamacare is cratering itself” and acknowledged that there’s no way to change the health care law without cooperation with the White House.

“I think our [debt ceiling] debate is going to be over more cutting” the budget, Fleming said. […]

“I think I would be satisfied if we could deal some with the debt,” Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the second-ranking Senate Republican, said when asked whether the GOP should link Obamacare to the debt-limit debate. “I think the health care law is going to implode on its own.”

There’s little reason to take seriously the threat to extract spending cuts for a debt ceiling hike, given that the last battle revealed GOP hostage demands to be untenable. But this still counts as progress of a sort. Conservatives like Ted Cruz continue to insist Republicans should use “every leverage point available” to destroy the law. But Republicans looking to avoid a rerun of last fall will push back by arguing that the law is spectacularly collapsing on its own, so why should they get in the way?

Also, the certainty that Obamacare’s ongoing implosion will shower Republicans with political riches in the midterms could also theoretically make them less likely (despite the bluster about demanding cuts for a debt limit hike) to muck things up politically with a messy crisis situation, even one in which the hostage demand has nothing to do with Obamacare. (Republicans and Dems have already reached agreement on a spending bill that fleshes out the recent sequester replacement deal, underscoring the GOP desire to avoid another government shutdown.)

None of this is to suggest Republicans will relax opposition to implementation of the law or that they won’t madly hype every bit of bad news for use against vulnerable Dems in 2014. However, National Journal reports that Dems are favored to win an upcoming special election in Florida’s 13th District. With both sides claiming the race is a bellwether for 2014, NJ notes, a Dem win could prove “Obamacare’s troubles are not an automatic death blow to their midterm prospects.” You don’t say!

The significance of individual off-year races is always overstated, and there’s little doubt Obamacare will continue to weigh down 2014 Dem candidates. But the question is, to what degree? The law could continue to fade from the headlines, and with enrollment mounting even in red states, it could recede, at least to some extent, as a political factor. No, really, that could happen.


* LEFT RATCHETS UP PRESSURE ON DEMS OVER IRAN: A coalition of liberal and foreign policy groups — including MoveOn, CREDO, the National Iranian American Council, J Street and a few evangelical groups — are sending a letter today to Senators, urging them not to support S. 1881, the bill to impose new sanctions on Iran, which the White House fears will derail diplomacy and make war more likely:

New sanctions will erode rather than strengthen our leverage for negotiations. Further, an unclassified U.S. intelligence assessment warns that “new sanctions would undermine the prospects for a successful comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran. S.1881 also sets insurmountable demands for a comprehensive nuclear deal by insisting that Iran dismantle its entire “nuclear infrastructure, including enrichment and reprocessing capabilities and facilities.” Such a demand is a poison pill for negotiations and is not necessary to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

There’s been some debate over this on the left, but not nearly enough, which has made it easier for Dem Senators to avoid taking a position on it, since supporting the bill is hard to defend. Groups opposed to the bill are hoping to force Dems to debate this in public.

* PRESSURE MOUNTS ON HARRY REID OVER IRAN: The New York Times reports on the battle inside the Senate over whether Democrats and Republicans will pass the Iran sanctions bill, with a focus on Harry Reid’s role in the fight. Reid will not allow a vote at least until the end of January, but:

Democrats said the current lull can hold only for a matter of weeks, not months….Aides say enough Senate Democrats would support the sanctions bill to override a presidential veto, and the House probably has a veto-proof margin as well. The fate of the bill, some on Capitol Hill said, is likely to rest with news from Iran. If newspapers begin running front-page articles about a resurgent Iranian economy or news breaks of burgeoning trade between Iran and its allies, Mr. Reid may be pressured to allow a vote.

As noted here yesterday, around 30 Senate Democrats remain mum on where they stand on this. Yet a vote — and a subsequent veto override — remain real possibilities.

* HOUSE TO TAKE UP IRAN BILL: The Wall Street Journal reports:

House leaders are planning to take up Senate legislation to enact new sanctions against Iran, a surprise move that would intensify a standoff between the White House and Congress in the wake of progress this past weekend in President Barack Obama’s diplomatic drive with Tehran.

This again underscores that passage of a sanctions bill is a genuine possibility. Democrats? Hello?

* EDITORIAL BOARD BLAST CONGRESS OVER IRAN: Both the New York Times and USA Today weigh in with strong editorials urging Congress to stand down from passing an Iran sanctions bill, agreeing it would make war more likely. The Times notes that Democrats and Republicans are “working to sabotage” diplomacy, while USA Today offers this:

It expresses “the sense of Congress” that if Israel decides to attack Iran, the United States should provide military support. The provision doesn’t quite outsource American war decisions to Israel; Congress would still need a second vote to turn its dubious “sense” into action. But the implication is hard to miss.

* OBAMA TO PUNT ON NSA REFORM? James Oliphant has an interesting piece gaming out what it will mean if the president doesn’t embrace real NSA surveillance reform. The crux of the issue is this: How far will he go in calling for metadata to be stored by a private third party?

Changes such as those, however, will be purely “cosmetic,” argues Jonathan Turley, an expert on national security law at George Washington University. That’s especially true if Obama refuses to require judicial approval for all individual database searches…That means simply shifting the data from the agency to a provider like Verizon won’t deny the NSA access to it at any given moment; the provider would have to comply with any request. Both current and former counterterrorism officials have come out against the judicial approval proposal, and Obama has evinced a pattern of deferring to his national security experts.

We should wait to see the proposals, of course, but if Obama doesn’t agree to an overhaul of the approval process leading up to such searches, the criticism is going to be merciless.

* BUDGET DEAL REACHED, BUT TEA PARTY WILL BE ANGRY: The Associated Press reports that Dems and Republicans have reached agreement on a $1.1 trillion spending bill fleshing out the sequester replacement deal reached at the end of last year. While there’s some in here for liberals to decry, the AP notes that Tea Party Republicans have more to be upset about — underscoring the determination of Republicans to avoid another shutdown. The question now is how it gets through the House; it will likely have to pass with a lot of Dem support.

* WHITE HOUSE VOWS TO FIX OBAMACARE ENROLLMENT MIX: Bloomberg reports that the Obama administration will “ramp up Obamacare outreach in 25 cities to lure younger people to the program,” after the news that the demographic mix isn’t ideal. This is another reminder that the current state of play is not a certain predictor of how the law will fare over time. Try telling that to the law’s foes, though.

* AND THE ANTI-OBAMACARE FALSEHOOD OF THE DAY: Glenn Kessler takes apart Marco Rubio’s insistence that federal money to fund the Medicaid expansion in states will simply “go away,” leaving states stuck with an “unfunded liability.” This one, which is echoed in many forms by foes of the law, underscores how weak the argument against opting into the expansion really is.

Also: Rubio is one of those Republicans who wants the GOP to embrace a new poverty agenda — yet here he is dissembling madly to undermine a provision designed to expand coverage to millions who can’t afford it.

What else?