Republicans hope to make the 2014 elections all about Obamacare. Democrats hope to broaden the argument, focusing on a range of concrete policies designed to  increase economic mobility and combat inequality.

But there are cracks appearing in the apparent GOP certainty that they can win solely by running against the health law. Politico’s David Nather has a good piece this morning reporting on divisions among Republicans over whether they need to craft a meaningful governing agenda on economic issues. While some Republicans tell Nather that such a drastic step is unnecessary, others insist otherwise:

Fighting Obamacare can be part of the conversation, they say, because Republicans can make the case that it has economic impact — but the conversation can’t end there. And if all they do is run against the Obama record and hope that’s enough, these Republicans and conservative thinkers say, that’s what Romney did in 2012 — and it didn’t work.

“This is a time when the party out of power should have these kinds of discussions,” said Pete Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics & Public Policy Center and a former adviser to President George W. Bush. […]

David Winston, House Speaker John Boehner’s pollster, says the party needs to have a clear focus leading up to the midterms: “As a political party, you need to be addressing the No. 1 issue concern as identified by the electorate. In this case, there’s no question it’s jobs and the economy.”

Some Republicans are putting forth various policies (Eric Cantor’s focus on regulatory relief and job training; Dave Camp’s tax reform plan), but there is no telling what will get a vote. And as Nather notes:

Did you know there was a House Republican Plan for Economic Growth and Jobs? It’s light reading — each issue gets a sentence.

In this context, it’s worth reiterating a basic dynamic that continues to go under-covered: The GOP’s agenda largely reflects the preoccupations of the Tea Party on economic issues — in addition to influencing the party’s stands on social issues. And the Tea Party economic worldview just doesn’t allow for Washington to play any meaningful role in increasing economic mobility and combatting inequality.

Polling breakdowns I’ve done show clearly that Tea Party Republicans — to a far greater degree than non-Tea Party Republicans — oppose government action to combat inequality; don’t see inequality as a problem; oppose the minimum wage hike; and believe government policies like unemployment benefits sap poor people’s work ethic rather than helping them. Non-Tea Party Republicans are much more in line with the mainstream on such matters. Yet the GOP agenda reflects the Tea Party worldview.

What’s more, news like the latest Obamacare delay announced yesterday only deepens GOP certainty that the law is in a state of collapse and that Republicans can win by running against it, which seems to reduce the will to develop an agenda on other issues.

* THE LATEST ON FLORIDA’S SPECIAL ELECTION: With 54 percent of absentee ballots now returned, Republicans hold a scant three-point edge in ballots sent in, 42-39, which analysts see as a sign Republican David Jolly is still underperforming compared to the traditional GOP mail vote edge here. Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Times observes that Dem Alex Sink is playing it safe in the final days, avoiding news conferences, even as Jolly aggressively seeks more media coverage, a possible indication Dems think they’re in good shape.

This race is all about vagaries of turnout in a special election, which means you can ignore the hype about the meaning of the outcome, no matter who wins.

* MATT MILLER RUNNING FOR HENRY WAXMAN’S SEAT: The Post’s Matt Miller, who served in the Clinton White House, is running for the seat of retiring Henry Waxman, releasing a web video in which he discusses his candidacy. The premise of his bid is that Demos need to offer bigger, bolder solutions to the biggest economic challenges progressives have identified (health costs, rising inequality, middle class wage stagnation), or continue to see Republicans successfully drag the policy conversation to the right even when Dems occupy the White House.


Today the State Department is putting in place visa restrictions on a number of officials and individuals, reflecting a policy decision to deny visas to those responsible for or complicit in threatening the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine…the President has signed an Executive Order that authorizes sanctions on individuals and entities responsible for activities undermining democratic processes or institutions in Ukraine; threatening the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine…This E.O. is a flexible tool that will allow us to sanction those who are most directly involved in destabilizing Ukraine, including the military intervention in Crimea, and does not preclude further steps should the situation deteriorate.

The whole thing is here.

* REPUBLICANS BLAME OBAMA FOR UKRAINE CRISIS: Related to the above: A great point from E.J. Dionne: Republicans are blaming Obama’s “weakness” for Putin’s invasion, even though they actually agree with him on the proper response to it:

In the age of President Obama even Republicans who agree with the president on a given foreign policy question have to disguise the fact with taunts and insults…A remarkably broad cross-party consensus has quickly coalesced around two propositions: the first, that we will not commit U.S. military forces in this crisis, but secondly, we should use every realistic form of pressure at our disposal to contain and then reverse Putin’s assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty. Must we pretend to disagree even when we agree?

Well, Republicans must pretend this, apparently, because the base seemingly won’t have it any other way.

* WHAT THE LATEST OBAMACARE DELAY REALLY MEANS: Yesterday the administration announced that people can keep their plans until 2016 or even beyond, and Jonathan Cohn has a useful explanation for why there there is an actual policy rationale for doing this. The key argument:

Administration officials argue that this announcement merely changes the duration of the transitionary period, without altering the end result. They make a good case. From the get-go, the law had a “grandfather clause,” allowing people with insurance as of March, 2010, when the Affordable Care Act became law, to hold onto their policies. This decision is similar to expanding that protection — and not to a very large group of people…with such small numbers, experts are saying the extension is unlikely to have a major effect on premiums.

Read the whole thing for the details.

* DEMS HIT GOP IDEAS IN ADVANCE OF CPAC: With Republicans set to gather for the Conservative Political Action Conference, Dems are out with a new memo hitting Republicans on the minimum wage, voting rights, women’s health issues, and gay rights, and contrasting it with CPAC agenda items such as this:

Healthcare After ObamaCare: A Practical Guide for Living When No One Has Insurance and America Runs Out of Doctors

The Dem memo illustrates Dems hope to offset any disadvantage over Obamacare by running on concrete policies to increase economic mobility and contrasting them with a GOP agenda dominated by the single-minded obsession with repealing Obamacare and replacing it with…

* REPUBLICANS RESISTANT TO CHRISTIE CANDIDACY: With Chris Christie set to appear at CPAC, a new Washington Post/ABC News poll finds that three in 10 Republicans would not even consider voting for him for president. Worse, 38 percent of conservatives are in the same camp.

Meanwhile, Robert Costa reports on tidbits from an internal memo detailing Christie’s strategy for appealing to conservatives: “Be a conservative Republican” (good idea); return to comfort zone where GOP governors are the future of the party; and bash the media (of course).

* AND WHAT TO LOOK FOR AT CPAC: James Homann has a useful guide to the key unknowns that you should be watching. My personal favorite, on the Arizona anti-gay bill:

How angry are social conservatives about the Arizona veto? Many who will be at the conference continue to oppose same-sex marriage and believe Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer caved to pressure from the business community and others when she she vetoed a bill its backers said was designed to protect religious freedom. But a younger generation of conservative activists wants to move past the gay marriage battle and think the right needs to be more tolerant to expand its ranks.

That divide, in which younger conservatives want the party to be more accommodating of gay rights, will be critical to getting the party to evolve.

What else?