Anyone who tells you the GOP is a lock for holding onto the House of Representatives while taking back the Senate in the midterms doesn't know what the hell they're talking about. Why? Because it's April. The election isn't for another seven months. That's a huge block of time, especially knowing how the speed of online media has accelerated news cycles and shortened voter attention spans.
I'm old enough to remember way back in October when Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-TX) disastrous filibuster and the subsequent government shutdown were the inciting incidents that would surely hand over control of the House to the Democrats. Online and traditional media were abuzz with predictions of a narrow edge for the Democrats in the midterms.
And then, within days, everything went to hell. Health and Human Services flummoxed the roll-out of Healthcare.gov and a late-October shitstorm landed on President Obama's head due to his "if you like your insurance, you can keep it" line.
Control of Congress, at least according to the very serious cable news and Sunday morning talkers, shifted wildly within a very small window of time, but today we're supposed to believe Mitch McConnell is staring at his sleestak-ish reflection in the mirror and repeating to himself, "Hi there, handsome. You look like the next Majority Leader. Why yes, I do!"
Not so fast. There continues to be one major wild card.
The Republican Party has committed itself to making the Affordable Care Act the centerpiece of its midterm strategy.
Here's Star Wars cantina alien and RNC chairman Reince Priebus on Friday:
“I don’t think there’s any serious observer that believes Democrats can take the House, and the Senate is slipping away from them,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus told reporters on a conference call Friday. “And that’s because Americans are hurting from this law.”
Generally speaking, no one's really "hurting." This is Priebus trying spread the myth that Obamacare is destroying jobs (it's not), bankrupting average Americans (it'snot) and stealing money from Grandma's Medicare checks (it's definitely not). They figure if they can continue to roll out their conga-line of Obamacare myths, most of which are untrue, they can keep up the ruse through and including Election Day.
The only problem? They're setting their strategy based on events from October and earlier when the ACA was much more unstable. As of midnight last night, surveys show that around 9.5 million Americans are now covered by insurance policies via the Affordable Care Act (other surveys show even more). That's well beyond the seven million enrollee goal the administration was shooting for last year.
There's no way of knowing whether every new enrollee is registered to vote or, if they are, whether they plan to turn out in the Fall but, for what it's worth, in 2010 around 90 million ballots were cast. The number of new ACA enrollees are the equivalent of 10 percent of the votes cast four years ago. If the GOP wants to monkey around with what could amount to a not insignificant number of voters, they can feel free, but speaking for myself, I'd be willing to use my body as a human shield against any politician who seeks to repeal the law and take away my policy. Suffice to day, I intend to vote against anyone who even hedges on whether he or she supports the GOP repeal effort. I'm probably not alone.
Now let's combine the newly insured enrollees with the broader poll numbers. A poll released yesterday by ABC News and The Washington Post showed a significant rebound in overall support for the law. A full 49 percent now favor the law, bolstered by increased Democratic favorability. 48 percent oppose the law. Meanwhile, 49 percent oppose the GOP's plan to repeal and replace the law. 47 percent favor it. Sure, neither of these numbers are overwhelmingly positive, but numbers for the ACA have been gradually improving and there's nothing on the horizon which could slow that trend. Either way, soft opposition and narrow margins don't seem to be the sturdiest bedrock upon which to build a long-term electoral strategy. So please, Mr. Priebus, keep going.
Furthermore, if the Democrats -- and this is a big "if" for the often PR-challenged Democrats -- can make a case for the various aspects of the law rather than an overall pitch for it in broad terms, support for the ACA could turn out to be even more robust. As we've discussed here several times before, the various top-shelf benefits within the law each enjoy supermajority support... among Republicans.
--In a 2012 poll, 80 percent of Republicans -- yes, Republicans -- like the idea of health insurance marketplaces, also known as "exchanges."
--Likewise, 57 percent of Republicans like the idea of the government helping to pay the cost of premiums via insurance subsidies.
--54 percent of Republicans like the employer mandate -- the same mandate which the congressioanl Republicans almost universally oppose.
--78 percent of Republicans support the ban on denying insurance to people with pre-existing conditions.
--29 percent of Republicans think Obamacare "doesn't go far enough."
The only aspect of Obamacare that Republican voters dislike is the individual mandate. But I'm sure they'd feel differently if they were informed that Republicans invented the mandate. Richard Nixon, in his 1974 "Comprehensive Health Insurance Plan," proposed to make it mandatory for businesses to provide health insurance for all full-time employees. In 1989, a document called "Assuring Affordable Health Care for All Americans" was drafted by Stuart Butler. In it, Butler proposed the idea of an individual mandate. I should note that Butler was a Distinguished Fellow and Director for the Center for Policy Innovation at the conservative Heritage Foundation. In the early 1990s, Republicans such as Bob Dole, Newt Gingrich, Orrin Hatch, Chuck Grassley, Richard Lugar and Alan Simpson proposed a counter-measure to Hillary Clinton's healthcare proposal. The GOP legislation contained an individual mandate and government subsidies.
Again, if the Democrats can appeal to voters based on each of the very popular line items in the law, they might even be able to swing a few moderate, open-minded Republicans (yes, they exist), and especially those Republicans who happen to have ACA coverage (yes, they exist, too). At the same time, there's seven months to carpet bomb swing districts with all of the Obamacare success stories such as, you know, my success story. That's more than enough time, and there's more than enough material.
This is all to suggest that the Democrats can absolutely meet the Republicans eye-to-eye on Obamacare rather than spinelessly running away from the law. There's plenty of ammunition, 9.5 million Americans with new policies, along with strengthening poll numbers from which to draw support. If Mr. Priebus wants to make Obamacare The Issue for 2014, bring it on. The Democrats should absolutely stick it to him and make the GOP sorry it bothered. Who knows whether this will change the make-up of Congress or how the numbers will stack up. It's still way too early to tell. But it's a good bet the Republicans are making a classic strategic blunder -- basing their fortunes upon the diminishing returns of the same old Obamacare myths and demagoguery.