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Morning Plum: GOP is ‘ready to govern,’ but without any governing agenda

Can Republicans package themselves as “ready to govern” in the run-up to the 2014 Congressional elections without pursuing serious policy accomplishments?

Multiple reports this morning tell us House Republicans have reached a consensus: it’s far better politically to hold off on acting on immigration, tax reform, and other issues, to avoid fracturing the party for the rest of the year. The problem, as some admit, is that a majority of House Republicans probably can’t unite behind solutions.

And yet, at the same time, Republicans are also mindful of the need, in their quest to control both houses of Congress, to appear ready to govern. What to do? The Post’s Robert Costa sums up the thinking among top Republicans this way:

Republican leaders are…quite aware of voters’ skepticism about the GOP’s policies, and most believe that a softer sell, rather than an assertive attempt to pass major bills, is a smart play. A Washington Post-ABC News poll in January found that just 19 percent of Americans have confidence in congressional Republicans to make the right decisions for the country, while 80 percent do not.

And there’s also this:

In the meantime, avoiding unruly theatrics and trying to package the GOP as a ready-to-govern party is the leadership’s chief concern. “We’re not going to make ourselves the story,” Boehner said in a speech to his colleagues Tuesday, before moving to pass a “clean” debt-ceiling extension — one without strings attached.

And so, the GOP strategy as described here, with no exaggeration, is to show that the party is “ready to govern” simply by avoiding destructive and chaotic governing crises while refraining from trying to pass “major bills,” because GOP policies are unpopular and Republicans can’t unite behind solutions in any case.

Costa also reports that “Republicans will offer their own wholesale substitute for the Affordable Care Act in the spring or summer, making full repeal of the law a keystone of their election-year message.” But they have been promising an alternative for over three years now, and the question remains whether any alternative can even pass the GOP-controlled House. Indeed, as Brian Beutler points out, recent Republican attacks on the health law have added new constraints preventing Republicans from coalescing behind any alternative.

What this means is that it is possible, or even likely, that repeal of Obamacare — i.e., returning to the old system, while offering no consensus alternative — will constitute the GOP’s main health care agenda heading into this fall. This would presumably come after Republicans have blocked immigration reform, a minimum wage hike, and extending unemployment insurance, and declined to cooperate with Dems on job creation proposals, at a time when majorities want government to act to reduce inequality and to expand programs for the poor.

Now, maybe this will work for Republicans. They could well win a lot of Senate seats, possibly even six or more. Some pundits insist Dems are in denial if they pause to even question whether only running against Obamacare will be enough to deliver a huge GOP midterm victory. But some Dem internal polling shows repeal may not be a winner, even in key competitive states. It’s at least possible enrollment will continue to mount, that the Obamacare “horror stories” Republicans continue to push will recede as a factor, and that many voters will prioritize other issues, too. (No, really, that could happen.) Do Republicans have a Plan B here?

* THE VOTERS’ TOP CONCERN? JOBS: Related to the above: Gallup finds that jobs and the economy are now the top concern of voters. Meanwhile, health care continues to fall as a top concern.

As Dem pollster Geoff Garin has noted, the economy could very well supplant Obamacare as the most important factor in this fall’s elections, and could even play a key role in determining public attitudes towards the health law. Of course, if the recovery continues to sputter, that could work against Dems.

* SOME REPUBLICANS WONDER WHETHER GOP STRATEGY IS ENOUGH: The Hill reports that some House Republicans are not sure whether it will be enough to only focus on Obamacare and governmental abuse in the Obama era (the IRS “scandal”):

Yet for some members, the GOP strategy may have too much of a familiar ring to it. The House GOP passed numerous measures with a similar theme in 2013, and its moves to pile up dozens of House-passed bills at the Senate’s doorstep has not actually resulted in many of them becoming law, to the growing frustration of rank-and-file Republicans.

Working against this, it seems, is the fact that many Republicans greet every bit of news that can be twisted into an attack on Obamacare (the CBO report) as actual proof Obamacare will be enough to deliver a GOP victory.

* THE LATEST EXECUTIVE ACTION FROM OBAMA: Here’s what’s next in Obama’s new effort to use executive authority to go around Congress:

President Obama will direct the Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday to develop new regulations to reduce planet-warming greenhouse gas pollution from truck tailpipes by March 2016.

This sets up a fight with car and truck manufacturers, so one thing to watch here is how aggressive the EPA gets with the new regulations, a possible sign of how willing the administration is to use executive authority in an ambitious way to combat climate change. Partly because Congressional stalemate leaves few other options — and partly because of the importance of the issue itself — executive action on climate is emerging as absolutely critical to Obama’s hopes for a meaningful second term.

* DEMS CONTINUE SOUNDING ALARM ABOUT OUTSIDE SPENDING: David Axelrod is the latest to warn that vulnerable Senate Dems are getting absolutely swamped by ads funded by the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity and other conservative groups:

“This is a serious threat. And it would behoove Democratic activists and donors who are whipped up about 2016 to shift their focus, or they may be sitting here in November, looking at a Republican Senate to go along with the House.”

As noted before, this doesn’t appear to be a garden variety effort to goose donors into giving more money; the alarm about the spending — which is unusually early — seems to be genuine.

* DEMS HAVE ROOM TO MANEUVER ON OBAMACARE: Politico’s James Homann reports what I’ve been telling you for some time: The Dem strategy on Obamacare, which centers on pointing out flaws in the law while blasting Republicans for their full repeal stance, is about fighting the health care battle to a draw. Note this:

An internal Democratic poll recently conducted in Montana, where there’s a competitive Senate race, found that 65 percent of voters agree with the statement “we’ve wasted too much time talking about Obamacare and we have other problems to deal with.” Among targeted voters, those deemed as persuadable, 73 percent agreed. Among women, 68 percent agreed and 28 percent disagreed.
Another Democratic poll in a state President Barack Obama carried with a competitive Senate race found two-thirds of voters agreed with the statement: “There are problems with the law, but there are good things — including coverage for pre-existing conditions … so no more bankruptcies for medical bills.”

The real question now is whether, with enrollment mounting, we’ll see more and more Dems develop the confidence to take on Republicans over the consequences of repeal a bit more directly, as we’re seeing with Alex Sink in Florida and a Dem Super PAC in North Carolina.

* KOCH-BACKED GROUP KEEPS UP OBAMACARE ASSAULT: Americans for Prosperity is up with yet another spot slamming Dem Senator Kay Hagan of North Carolina, this one hitting her over her recent suggestion that Obamacare’s “time has come.” The ad claims huge numbers in the state are losing insurance and getting hit by higher premiums, another reminder of the absolute GOP certainty that the law’s “horror stories” can only pay off with huge political dividends in an election nine months from now.

* OLDER AMERICANS WINNERS FROM OBAMACARE: The Associated Press has a great piece looking at older Americans who are emerging as winners from the law. It details that many are particularly relieved to get coverage, because the Great Recession had left many heading into later years in a financially precarious state. This is another reminder that we continue to head into the realm of the concrete when it comes to the Obamacare metric that matters most — the number who get coverage — and that as we do, more positive stories will emerge.

* AND THE SNARK OF THE DAY, GOP POST-POLICY EDITION: Steve Benen, on the new House GOP plan to avoid destructive confrontations while also refraining from dealing with any big ticket items this year:

That’s quite an inspiring message: “Vote GOP 2014: We only shut down the government once, not twice.”

What else?