It is a hamster wheel-like existence we are living in D.C. these days. There’s a whole lot of activity, and yet, we’re not going anywhere at all.
Over the past two weeks there have been two “major” political events – the delay of the employer mandate under Obamacare and the passage of the Senate’s “Gang of Eight” immigration reform bill. But, don’t mistake these developments for movements. They are just shiny objects that keep us entertained while we run in place. The Republican-controlled House is unlikely to pass a comprehensive immigration bill, and Obamacare will remain a huge issue – and most likely a huge liability for Democrats - in 2014.
At first blush, the Obama administration’s decision to delay implementation of the employer mandate looks like a good thing for Democrats up in 2014. Said one smart Democratic strategist: “It keeps a bad story – how the exchanges aren’t ready – from being a BIG bad story.”
And, “story” is the operative word here. The biggest threat to Obamacare’s success isn’t the so-called “train wreck” where the whole thing just blows up at once. Instead, it’s more like death by a thousand anecdotes. Delaying the employer mandate takes one set of anecdotes off the table in 2014 – namely stories of employers laying off workers and employees coping with reduced work hours. Yet, there are still plenty of damaging anecdotes waiting to be told: the young Americans who can’t afford the newly mandated individual coverage; rising premiums for those already covered by employer-based care; the complications and confusion surrounding the exchanges.
In fact, the conservative group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) is already up with advertising that features the testimony of a young mom, worried that Obamacare will limit her healthcare options for her son who suffers from seizures. The goal of this spot isn’t simply to criticize the law. Most people have already taken sides on whether they think the law is a good or a bad thing. Instead, the goal of these ads is to actually discourage Americans from signing up for the care in the first place.
Levi Russell, the spokesman for AFP, said that “I would expect that the more people learn about ACA and how it could negatively impact them, the less interested they are in signing up on an exchange.”
The fewer folks that sign up for coverage, the easier it’ll be for GOPers to make the case that Obamacare is a failure.
For their part, Democrats aren’t simply sitting on the sidelines. The pro-Obama political group, OFA, has released its own ads promoting the benefits of the new law. Their more recent ad features an emotional pull, with a mom praising Obamacare for allowing her daughter to remain covered by insurance while she undergoes heart surgeries.
Both sides are going to have stories to tell. The question is whether the pro-Obamacare forces will be able to match the resources of those on the other side. Since 2009, ad spending against Obamacare has outpaced spending is support for the new health care law by a margin of almost 5-1, according to the political ad tracking firm Kantar’s CMAG. Unless that changes in 2014, it’s going to be very hard for Democrats up in 2014 to be insulated from Obamacare fall-out.
Then there’s immigration reform. By now, it’s clear that the “Gang of Eight” Senate bill is D.O.A. in the House. Moreover, it’s getting hard to see a pathway to a “pathway for citizenship” in a House bill. Said one top GOP aide close to the process: “there’s a very narrow path to getting something to the President’s desk. But, it’s probably not something he’ll like.”
It’s also clear that there is no political figure – Republican or Democrat – who can “sell” the GOP conference on the need for reform. There’s been some talk that perhaps President George W. Bush, who was unsuccessful during his own tenure at passing reform legislation, could help sway reluctant House Republicans this year.
On Wednesday, the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas convened a half-day program dedicated to “spotlight how immigrants drive growth in the Texas economy, why naturalization matters to the economy, and how immigrants serve America.” At a speech to kick off the event Wednesday morning, the former president made clear that while he doesn’t “particularly want to be involved in the politics, or the specifics of policy” surrounding the immigration debate, he “hope[s] there is a positive resolution to the debate.” And, said Bush, “I hope during the debate that we keep a benevolent spirit in mind, and we understand the contributions immigrants make to our country.”
This isn’t exactly a hard-sell, but his remarks and the focus of the conference itself aren’t particularly subtle either.
The current President has very little influence either. Nothing the President does inside or outside the Beltway is going to have any sort of positive influence on GOP members. The bully pulpit is useless when: a) the president’s job approval is hovering at 47 percent; and b) there are so few competitive districts where Republicans have to worry about anything other than placating their base.
And, so, back to the spinning wheel we go.
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