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The Morning Plum: Dems hit back over Obamacare

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Two key questions loom over 2014: How will Dems fend off attacks over the health law that will only intensify, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars? And how much damage will be done by the early ad blitz hitting Dems right now, bankrolled by Americans for Prosperity, the group backed by the Koch brothers?

This new Obamacare ad begins to answer those questions. The Dem-aligned Patriot Majority USA is airing it in North Carolina on behalf of Senator Kay Hagan — one of the top targets of the AFP — and it hits her opponent, North Carolina Rep. Thom Tillis, over the consequences of repeal:

I’m told the ad is backed by a $500,000 buy. Meanwhile, according to media buy information, AFP has already spent over $7.2 million on ads targeting Hagan, one of four incumbents who will be key to whether Dems hold the Senate. So this underscores how lopsided spending is right now. Dem operatives who are sounding the alarm about the spending disparity appear genuinely worried.

In substantive terms, what’s noteworthy about this ad is that it goes after the GOP repeal stance:

Senate candidate Thom Tillis sides with health insurance companies. He’d let them deny coverage for preexisting conditions, and raise rates for women needing mammograms. Tillis supports a plan that would end Medicare as we know it, and force seniors to spend up to $1,700 more for prescriptions. Thom Tillis. He’s with the special interests. Hurting North Carolina families.

The ad never mentions “Obamacare” or the “Affordable Care Act” or even “health reform.” This reflects the dilemma Dems face in red states. The overall law — and its chief sponsor — remain deeply unpopular. But Dems believe the full repeal stance is also problematic — and they have to stand behind the law — so they are emphasizing the components in it that remain popular, while arguing Republicans would do away with those things and return us to the old system. And they are broadening the argument by linking it to more traditional GOP vulnerabilities on Medicare, to make a bigger case about GOP ideological hostility to the health care safety net.

Notably, Dems in more moderate swing areas — such as Alex Sink in Florida’s 13th District — are aiming a little more directly at the GOP health care stance with ads that openly talk about the law and fault Republicans for wanting repealing it. The CBO report, of course, only deepened GOP certainty that the law is in the midst of an epic collapse that can only shower enormous political gains on Republicans in an election nine months away, even though that same report also showed the law on track to come close to longer term targets. Meanwhile, as the law’s rollout fades from the headlines, and as enrollment mounts, we’re already seeing Dems gain a bit more confidence in campaigning on its core goals and on tying Republicans to the consequences of repeal, though this will continue to be handled gingerly in red states.

* HOW DEMS ARE HITTING BACK ON OBAMACARE: Meanwhile, the House Majority PAC is up with a new ad for vulnerable Florida Dem Rep. Joe Garcia that points out he criticized the “disastrous” ACA website while supporting curbing insurance industry discrimination against those who get sick or have preexisting conditions. Pundits will say this is “running” from the law, but it’s actually the “keep and fix” Dems should be sounding — they should criticize the law’s rollout failures while standing behind its core goals.

* GOP DEBT LIMIT EXTORTION IS DEAD: The key nugget from the Post write-up of the House GOP surrender on the debt limit:

The Republican surrender probably ended a three-year war by the House GOP against what had been an obscure procedural maneuver to ensure that the nation’s past bills were paid on time.

Oddly enough, very few commentators who claim to dislike Congressional dysfunction are willing to credit Dems with recognizing that the only responsible and effective way to end debt limit extortion was to refuse to engage with it.

Also key from the Post write-up: Boehner won’t pay any significant price for bucking the Tea Party. No one could have predicted that!

* REPUBLICANS TO REVISIT DEBT LIMIT EXTORTION? And yet, the New York Times overview of the House GOP cave notes that Republicans were happy to put this behind them, but with a caveat:

Most Republicans appeared content to move beyond the debt ceiling fight, focus on the 2014 campaign. “Hopefully we can win the Senate, and we can have a completely different conversation,” said Representative James Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican running for the Senate.

Uh oh! Color me skeptical. If Republicans control both chambers, it would become even more obvious who is to blame for default, should they let it happen.

* BOEHNER’S CRAFTY IMMIGRATION STRATEGY: David Drucker talks to sources close to the Speaker and comes away with this:

Republicans close to Boehner say the speaker never intended to risk a civil war within his caucus over an issue that is not a top priority for most Americans. His plan was to move the ball forward as much as possible while putting House Republicans on the record as pro-reform. Even that incremental push faced a wave of resistance from the party’s rank-and-file. Those familiar with Boehner’s strategy say he never forgot that any missteps could put the GOP House majority in jeopardy and endanger prospects for taking the Senate.

Clever! Put Republicans “on record” as wanting reform, without acting! That’ll repair the GOP’s Latino problem. Meanwhile, again, putting off the debate until next year might be good for the GOP in 2014, but it means the immigration debate will get tied up in GOP presidential primary politics next year.

* DEMS TO RAMP UP PRESSURE ON IMMIGRATION: Relatedly, the Hill reports that Congressional Dems, who had been largely giving GOP leaders space to develop their proposals, plan to crank up the attacks on Republicans for failing to act. Here’s Dem Rep. Luis Guttierez:

“Mr. Speaker, you are not going to be spared. Kids will keep showing up to interrupt your breakfast as long as their parents are facing deportation and their communities are being ripped apart,” Gutierrez said on the House floor. “You thought the Super Bowl was a blowout? Wait until November 2016 if immigration reform is still hanging out there.”

Yup. Ted Cruz, however, would love for that to happen.

* DEMS KEEP HITTING REPUBLICANS OVER UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE: Americans United for Change has commissioned two polls from Public Policy Polling that suggest opposition to UI may have damaged GOP Senators. They find voters in Ohio and Illinois say they’re less likely to vote for Rob Portman and Mark Kirk by 24-point and nine-point margins in 2016. While the UI extension may be dead, GOP opposition will remain key to the argument against Republicans in a cycle Dems will make all about inequality.

* AND ARE REPUBLICANS AFRAID TO TALK ABOUT MICHAEL SAM? A smart point from Jonathan Cohn: Very few Republican or conservative lawmakers have said anything, positive or negative, about the first openly-gay NFL player. Yet another sign of the fading of a once-potent set of cultural wedge issues?