In many ways, the political battle over Obamacare is really a battle over Obama.
The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that a number of red state Senate Democrats will propose a package of “fixes” to the Affordable Care Act. Two of these Dems — Mary Landrieu and Mark Begich — are under heavy fire over the health law and face grueling reelection campaigns:
Democratic Senators … plan to introduce as soon as Thursday a set of principles and legislation aimed at strengthening the health law, according to lawmakers and Senate Democratic aides.
Among the proposals likely to be included is one backed by Messrs. Begich and Warner offering a new kind of insurance plan, a “copper” plan featuring lower premiums and higher out-of-pocket costs than the “bronze,” “silver” and “gold” options on the government-run health-care exchanges.
Lawmakers also would like to make health care more affordable for small businesses by expanding certain tax credits and making them available for longer…Other bills are expected to be introduced, with an emphasis on changes that don’t undercut the law’s foundations, aides said.
Putting aside the policy impact such proposals would have — it’s unlikely they will get a Senate vote in any case — this is a reminder that, for both sides, the war over the health law in the 2014 elections is really a war over the president’s unpopularity.
The ads from the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity are obviously attacks on Obamacare. But their larger goal is to use all those victimization anecdotes to turn folks against government as an agent of positive economic change and channel unhappiness with the sluggish economy (which itself has dragged down Obama’s approval) into anger at government and votes to oust those Dems. The health law is a convenient symbol of the ways these Dems are willing enablers of an Obama Big Government agenda that’s only deepening people’s economic misery.
Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, the response — proposing “fixes” to Obamacare — are also partly about achieving distance from its author and demonstrating a reasonable willingness to acknowledge the need for improvements where necessary. These embattled incumbent Dems maximize their chances of hanging on if they can stake out their independence from Obama. Landrieu will stand up for the Medicaid expansion but also cast herself as tough enough to defy the President to protect Louisiana’s interests. Begich is already up with an ad that’s emphasizing his Alaska roots and willingness to defy Washington Dems on energy. Today’s Obamacare “fixes” are of a piece with this.
* DEMS BEGIN SERIOUSLY ENGAGING IN MICHIGAN: Dem Senate candidate Gary Peters, a top target of Americans for Prosperity’s barrage of ads (one featuring cancer victim Julie Boonstra), is going up on the air with two biographical spots designed to introduce him statewide in Michigan. The 30-second spot is here, and the minute-long spot (which is worth watching) is here.
The ads — backed by a substantial buy — don’t mention Obamacare or the Kochs. AFP has vastly outspent Dems in some states, and now that Dems are spending serious money in response, it’ll be worth watching to see what the polling looks like here for clues as to whether Republicans are seriously broadening the map.
* DEMS PUSH FORWARD WITH UI VOTE: The Hill reports that Senate Democratic leaders are set to hold a vote on the bipartisan deal to extend unemployment insurance by Friday. It appears to have the 60 votes it needs to overcome a GOP filibuster. But many GOP Senators will vote No, and all signs are that House Republicans remain opposed, so the UI extension will likely die. And this will become an issue that Dems use to sharpen the economic contrast with the GOP in 2014.
* KEEP AN EYE ON MISSISSIPPI SENATE RACE: The New York Times has an interesting look at Tea Partyer Chris McDaniel’s challenge to longtime GOP Senator Thad Cochran in Mississippi, which is shaping up as another Tea Party-versus-GOP-establishment struggle over the future of the party. Notably, McDaniel has the support of major conservative groups, who are critical of Cochran’s bringing in of gobs of federal money into the state, and hoping to prove the Tea Party is still a force.
If McDaniel wins, Dems — who have recruited former Rep. Travis Childers — will have another surprise pickup opportunity along with Kentucky and Georgia. One pickup makes a GOP majority far harder to attain.
* TURNOUT CRUCIAL IN COLORADO SENATE RACE: Politico has a nice overview of GOP Rep. Cory Gardner’s challenge to Dem Senator Mark Udall, with an emphasis on how Dems will use Gardner’s extreme positions to turn out core voters that tend to stay home in midterms:
Udall is invoking abortion rights and immigration to motivate women, Latinos as well as young people — the kind of voters who helped Obama carry the state twice — to turn out to vote without a presidential race to draw their interest. Polls continue to show a strong majority of Coloradans support abortion rights, and the surging Latino population in the state could be critical in a close race.
Also worth reiterating: Gardner has not signed the immigration reform discharge petition, which Dems will cite as evidence he’s putting the House GOP leadership before Latinos.
* OBAMA SLIPS AMONG LATINOS: A new Pew poll finds that Obama’s approval among Latinos has dropped a precipitous 15 points, and Latino opinion on the health law is now evenly divided. The administration has made no secret of its disappointment in Latino enrollment in the law, and has stepped up outreach. As for his overall approval, keep an eye on the possibility of executive action on deportations.
* MARK WARNER FAR AHEAD IN VIRGINIA: A new Quinnipiac poll finds Dem Senator Mark Warner leading GOP challenger Ed Gillespie by 15 points, 46-31, with a favorable rating of 49 points. Republicans have cited Virginia as evidence they are broadening the Senate map, which seems fanciful, though in fairness they can more plausibly point to Colorado and Virginia as signs they are succeeding in doing that.
* CONNECTICUT HIKES MINIMUM WAGE: Connecticut has become the first state to hike its minimum wage to the level sought by Dems on the federal level, $10.10 per hour. State-level battles over the minimum wage could actually have an impact on the 2014 elections, in interesting ways. But more on that later.
* AND THE LAWSUIT THAT COULD STILL DESTROY OBAMACARE: Sahil Kapur makes a pretty good case that a new lawsuit percolating in lower courts — one centered on whether the federal exchange can legitimately subsidize coverage — could still pose a serious threat to the law. Reminder: Folks initially dismissed the lawsuit against the individual mandate, but it went all the way to the Supreme Court and survived only as a tax.