A little more than a year out from the mid term elections and voters will have a difficult choice regarding which party they will hate more; Republicans, for shutting down the government and bringing the country to the brink of default, or Democrats for stuffing Obamacare down their throats.
The Affordable Care Act’s rocky rollout has put Democrats and the White House back on defense — allowing Republicans who were deeply divided over, and under fire for, the partial government shutdown to unite and focus on the failures of HealthCare.gov.
Not coincidentally, a handful of Democrats up for re-election next year in swing and red states have broken ranks with the Obama administration.
New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen sent a letter to the president demanding an extension of the deadline to sign up, and almost immediately was joined by Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Mary Pryor of Arkansas.
None of them was willing to delay or even negotiate ObamaCare a few weeks ago, in the heat of the budget impasse.
Pryor is perhaps the most vulnerable Democrat in the country. Conservative super PACs like the Club for Growth are pounding him. One such ad growls: “We know Mark Pryor supports ObamaCare but lately he’s gotten even more extreme.”
Pryor voted against any delays in ObamaCare during the partial shutdown; he also voted against a Republican attempt to force members of Congress and other government officials onto the ObamaCare exchanges without extra subsidies.
Two other Democrats who are not even up for re-election — Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal and moderate West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin — have also broken ranks with the White House to back a delay. Manchin is co-sponsoring bipartisan legislation with Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia to delay the individual mandate by a year.
There is ample evidence suggesting Republicans were blamed in the polls for the partial government shutdown, but the refusal to negotiate by the White House and congressional Democrats coupled with the ObamaCare launch debacle have eclipsed much of that.
“You look at the 17 days of the shutdown and compare that to how many days we’re gonna be watching these critical ObamCare rollout stories — something tells me the critical stories about ObamaCare rollout are going to last a lot longer than 17 days,” University of Virginia Professor Larry Sabato said.
Sabato, a reliable Democratic analyst, forgets one key point; the economy. Growth has slowed in the last quarter and Obama and the Democrats have a ready-made villain to blame if the economy stalls; GOP “recklessness” relating to the shutdown. The president has already been touting the lost jobs and cost to the government of the shutdown. If growth continues to be anemic, voters may stop wondering about the president’s ruinous policies and concentrate instead on GOP malfeasance.
Otherwise, Sabato has it right. Negative stories about Obamacare will likely continue well into next year. But there is also a trap for the GOP in their continuing efforts to defund or delay the law.
Problems with the website are eventually going to be fixed — or, at least, patched up to the point that consumers will be able to complete the process with a minimum of bother. At that point, scrutiny about winners and losers relating to Obamacare will become a political football, with Democrats crowing about people who never had insurance being covered while Republicans point to the millions who will lose coverage and be forced into paying more.
Who wins in a contest like that? In a mid term election with far lower turnout than a general election, the advantage would have to go to the GOP. Some people may be happy to have insurance, but are satisfied people or people angry at losing their insurance more likely to make the effort to vote? Since Obamacare losers are more likely to outnumber winners, the chances of Republicans gaining an advantage due to the law’s unpopularity (and unfairness) could win the GOP some races they might otherwise have lost.
Blaming Republicans for a moribund economy only works if conditions worsen between now and election day. While not out of the question, it is more likely that we’ll continue to limp along the way we have been for the last few years, enduring the Obama economy as best we can. Combined with the Obamacare disaster, that sounds like a winning combination for Republicans.