A new report this morning confirms that House Republicans are likely to delay plans to offer an alternative to Obamacare until after the elections; that multiple Republican candidates are retreating from repeal; and that they are increasingly mouthing support for the law’s general goals. Once again: There’s no real policy space for a meaningful alternative, but the base still sees repeal as its lodestar, yet everyone else opposes repeal, forcing Republicans to claim they’d scrap it and replace it with something or other doing all the popular things in it, without saying what.

The new Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll for May perfectly captures the fact that both parties have a political dilemma on the law. While approval remains low, it’s hard to look at these numbers and conclude Republicans are winning the argument over what they continue to cast as the defining symbol of the failed Obama presidency and liberal governance in general. The poll also confirms that the law remains a major preoccupation only of Republicans.

— The approval/disapproval numbers are holding steady, at 38-45, and indeed are back to where they were in September, before the Glorious Obamacare Reckoning of last fall took place. Sharp polarization continues, but the number of Republicans with a “very” unfavorable view is twice that of the number of Dems with a “very” favorable one. So the intensity gap favors Republicans.

— The position of every 2014 GOP candidate remains unpopular: 34 percent support repealing the law and replacing it with something else, while 59 percent want their member of Congress to work to fix the law. Among independents, those numbers are 33-59. As other polls have confirmed, only Republicans want the law repealed, by 65-32.

— Americans want to move on from the Obamacare debate: 51 percent say want Congress to talk about other issues, while 43 percent say they want Congress to keep debating the health law. Among independents: 50-44. Once again, only Republicans want this debate to continue, by 60-35.

— Obamacare is not a major motivating issue: Americans say by 52-31 that they’d consider a candidate’s position on the law as just one of many major issues, not the deciding one.

— More say they’ve been directly hurt by the law than helped. But this is colored by partisanship: Republicans (37) are more likely to say they’ve been hurt by it than independents (27) and Dems (8) are. And 60 percent say they haven’t been impacted.

To recap: Opinion on the law is sharply polarized; most Americans want Congress to work to improve the law rather than repeal it and most want to move on from this debate; only Republicans want repeal and only Republicans want the debate to continue; and the real advantage the law gives Republicans is it drives their base into more of a frenzy than it does the Dem base. While on balance the law will probably remain a net negative for Dems in red states, all of this once again suggests that both sides’ positions on the law remain problematic and that it probably won’t prove the decisive winning electoral factor Republicans (and credulous pundits) say it will.


* REPUBLICANS RETREATING ON OBAMACARE: The Washington Post has a good piece reporting that multiple Republican candidates are backing off on repeal and instead are widely mouthing support for the law’s popular general goals. A Republican strategist explains why:

“The sentiment toward the Affordable Care Act is still strongly negative, but people are saying, ‘Don’t throw the baby out” with the bathwater, said Glen Bolger, a partner with the GOP polling firm Public Opinion Strategies.

Right, but the GOP base continues to insist on throwing out the baby (see the above Kaiser poll), which is why Republican candidates have no choice but to insist they’d repeal the law while promising to keep the stuff people like.

* HOUSE GOP POSTPONES VOTE ON ALTERNATIVE: Also from the above Post story:

In Washington, several chairmen of House committees told GOP leaders at a meeting last week that they would prefer to wait until next year to vote on a comprehensive health-care alternative, according to Republicans who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Maybe the Republican alternative to Obamacare is Obamacare? Or perhaps Republicans don’t actually want to embrace the tradeoffs required to accomplish what Obamacare accomplishes?

* McCONNELL KYNECT FOLLIES CONTINUE: Glenn Kessler has now gotten still another answer from the Mitch McConnell campaign on what should happen to all of those covered by the Medicaid expansion in Kentucky: He favors repealing all of Obamacare, but Kentucky can keep the expansion if the state pays for it.

So either most of those 300,000 people lose coverage; or the state picks up the tab, right?

* GET READY FOR EPIC CLIMATE CHANGE BATTLE: The League of Conservation Voters has put out a new memo that seems designed to put some spine in Democrats for the coming war over the new EPA regulations on carbon emissions from existing power plants. It argues that voters trust the EPA more than Congress to make decisions on the environment and that Dems who have embraced climate science have done well in recent Senate races.

Dem strategists have told me vulnerable Dems will see this as a problem for them, though there are no signs of a mass distancing just yet.

* OBAMA TO HAVE ‘SERIOUS CONVERSATION’ WITH SHINSEKI: In an interview with ABC News that will air later this morning, the president says this about embattled VA chief Eric Shinseki’s future:

“I’ll have a serious conversation with him about whether he thinks that he is prepared and has the capacity to take on the job of fixing it. I don’t want any veteran to not be getting the kind of services they deserve.”

Meanwhile, 113 lawmakers, including 34 Dems, have called on Shinseki to step down. He’s meeting with the White House today, so stay tuned.

* WHY HAVEN’T BOEHNER AND CANTOR CALLED FOR SHINSEKI’S FIRING? Russell Berman gets to the heart of it:

It’s not that House Republican leaders think Eric Shinseki is doing a good job as secretary of the scandal-ridden Department of Veterans Affairs. It’s that they think his ouster could give President Obama an easy way out of a widening crisis.

Good to have that cleared up.

* AND HERE’S HOW DEMS HOPE TO HOLD SENATE: John Harwood has a must-read getting inside a key dynamic: Dem hopes for holding the Senate rest heavily on the “brand capital” of these embattled Dems, which is the key to their ability to hold on to support amid a bad national environment:

In four states that usually lean Republican, Democrats will be running candidates from families with multigenerational records of political success — the Pryors of Arkansas, the Landrieus of Louisiana, the Begiches of Alaska and the Nunns of Georgia. If at least two of the four legacy candidates can eke out victories, the Democrats’ chances of holding the Senate will be better than even…Democratic candidates are going to great lengths to remind voters of the candidates’ political legacies.

This is why you are already seeing ads that heavily stress the candidates’ positive personal attributes and deep times to their states, as well as a concerted effort by Dems to turn these campaigns into choices between two candidates.

What else?