A new report this morning confirms that Republicans intend to use upcoming confirmation hearings for Obama’s HHS nominee to breathe new life into political attacks on Obamacare in advance of the 2014 elections.

Democrats should absolutely relish this development.

Reuters reports that Republicans plan to use confirmation hearings for Sylvia Mathews Burwell, Obama’s pick to replace Kathleen Sebelius, to “re-energize their election-year attacks on his signature healthcare initiative.” Note the remarkable candor as to what this is really about:

Republican strategists say the more dramatic moments in the hearings, where Burwell will face a litany of tough questions from Republican lawmakers, could yield rich material for television ads and social media campaigns. […]

“One gaffe and they lose the news cycle,” a Republican Party strategist said. […]

“The confirmation process is likely to focus on all of the Obamacare-related disasters,” said Brook Hougesen, a spokeswoman with the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Republicans plan to grill Burwell about mandates “for the benefit of independent voters,” and will attack Obamacare’s Medicare cuts to motivate “senior citizens, a dependably major presence in midterm elections.”

There is nothing inherently wrong with using Congressional process to make a political argument. In some ways, Democrats are doing the same thing by holding repeated Senate votes on the minimum wage hike, pay equity, unemployment insurance, and other issues: They are demonstrating the contrast in priorities between the two parties, which is a good thing in an election year.

And that’s why Democrats should not worry too much about these hearings: They put Republican policy priorities on stark display, and afford an opportunity for Dems to draw a contrast with them.

After all, Republicans are explicitly building much of their 2014 campaign around the idea that the repeal of Obamacare is the answer to people’s economic anxieties. Obamacare is a disaster, goes this thinking, and another round of oversight hearings will demonstrate that Republicans are right to make its repeal their leading focus. That is explicitly what GOP operatives are saying above.

These hearings are a reminder that for Republicans, attacking Obamacare is easier than engaging in constructive policy making of their own. House Republican leaders have promised a health care alternative, but that is proving pretty damn hard to do. They’ve said they want to tackle immigration reform, but John Boehner now admits this is too “hard.” They say they support doing something about pay inequity in principle, just not what Dems offered. They say they are willing to extend unemployment benefits — if Democrats meet unspecified demands. And so on. Meanwhile, what Republicans are actually doing is continuing to attack Obamacare — in keeping with the idea that repealing it is a leading solution to the country’s economic woes (along with Keystone).

Republicans claim these hearings will appeal to independent voters. But that seems unlikely. A majority of independents wants to move on from the Obamacare debate; is there any chance that another round of politicized Washington hearings on the law will appeal to many of them? Doubtful. This is almost certainly more about keeping the base juiced than anything else. Meanwhile, concrete economic policies Dems are offering actually are supported by independents. I don’t know how much that will ultimately matter, given the terrible map for Dems, but these hearings offer the chance to reiterate an affirmative case for the health law, and to contrast their own economic policy agenda with the GOP’s obsessive argument that repealing Obamacare is key to curing our economic problems. That’s a contrast Dems should be happy to draw.


* KARL ROVE TO GOP: TIME TO OFFER AN AGENDA: Related to the above: Karl Rove’s Wall Street Journal column today contains a whole lot of bluster about how this week’s polls are terrible news for Obama and Democrats. We get the real dope only in the last paragraph:

Republicans will help Mr. Obama if they react to his bad poll numbers by picking the safe path—that of keeping their fire focused on the president’s shortcomings, instead of also offering a popular governing agenda equal to the economic and other challenges faced by millions of Americans, especially those in the middle class. The Republican Party is the minority party, which means that this election is precisely the time for the GOP to move beyond obstructionism and show that it has the answers Americans want.

This new round of Obamacare hearings would appear to be moving Republicans in exactly the opposite direction.

* DEMS VOW REPEATED MINIMUM WAGE VOTES: In the wake of yesterday’s GOP filibuster of the minimum wage hike, senior Democrats are vowing that the Senate will return to this matter “again and again,” to increase pressure on Republicans as the election heats up. The minimum wage is only one of many areas in which Senate Dem leaders are consciously using votes to create an election year blueprint and economic policy agenda for Dems to run on this fall — and to contrast with the GOP’s all-Obamacare-all-the-time agenda.

* THE ARGUMENT ABOUT POVERTY AT CORE OF MINIMUM WAGE FIGHT: Annie Lowrey has a nice big picture piece laying out the larger disputes underlying the argument over whether to raise the minimum wage. Despite claims that prices for consumer goods have fallen, raising living standards, the poor are falling behind relative to the whole:

Despite improved living standards, the poor have fallen further behind the middle class and the affluent in both income and consumption. The same global economic trends that have helped drive down the price of most goods also have limited the well-paying industrial jobs once available to a huge swath of working Americans. And the cost of many services crucial to escaping poverty — including education, health care and child care — has soared.

Thus the Dem argument that the way to address this is by raising wages and making education, health care and child care more accessible — versus the Republican argument that the answer is to reduce government aid programs’ disincentive to work to increase people’s mobility.

 * CONSERVATIVES PLOT TO DERAIL IMMIGRATION REFORM: Politico reports that House conservatives are laying plans to kill immigration reform, and are increasingly distrustful of John Boehner’s intentions:. A key quote from one of them:

“It is difficult to plan a specific course of action when the leadership keeps tossing out vague ways to give amnesty to illegal aliens. When we see a specific plan from the House leadership, then those of us who favor American citizens first will have a better idea of where the leadership is specifically going and how we will specifically respond.”

As always, the crux of the issue is that there is a bloc of House Republicans who cannot accept any form of legal status for the 11 million under any circumstances. The only question here is whether John Boehner will allow those people to determine the House GOP’s agenda.

* PRESSURE MOUNTS ON OBAMA OVER DEPORTATIONS: The Los Angeles Times reports that immigration activists are planning a series of May Day marches today designed explicitly to increase pressure on Obama to act unilaterally to ease the pace of deportations. Though the number deported from the interior is down, the activists’ case is that deportations that are happening still constitute a crisis. The marches are a reminder that, if Republicans fail to act by August, the pressure on Obama to move alone will become very hard to resist, meaning the window for GOP participation in legislative action is closing fast.

* LANDRIEU PUSHING KEYSTONE PIPELINE: Roll Call has a good overview of the behind-the-scenes machinations going on around the Keystone pipeline, with embattled Dem Senator Mary Landrieu pushing for a vote, in part to achieve distance from Obama and national Democrats. Interestingly, fellow Louisiana Senator David Vitter is pushing for his now infamous amendment to be added to the legislature, which could gum up the works all in service of yet another attack on (what else) Obamacare.

* AND THE LATEST BOGUS GOP ATTACK ON OBAMACARE: House Republicans have released a new report claiming only 67 percent of Obamacare sign-ups have actually paid. Jonathan Cohn has a much needed takedown of this latest attack, noting that their data is only as of April 15th, before the big signup surge, and that insurers are disputing the findings. Cohn’s conclusion:

The tactic works, no matter how many times fact-checkers and media point out the distortions. Once information like this is out there, it becomes a permanent part of the conversation. Republicans and their supporters will keep citing it, over and over again. Some will even say it’s proof that Obama is “cooking the books” — even if it turns out that it’s Republicans, not the White House, playing games with the numbers.

Exactly. The Anti-Obamacare Feedback Loop is a self reinforcing phenomenon.