With no sign that the troubled roll-out of Obamacare will be getting better any time soon, there is growing speculation that nervous Congressional Democrats will ultimately join GOPers in calling for the law to be scrapped. That would be foolish. More importantly, it also won’t insulate them from the political fall-out in 2014.
Democrats have played defense on Obamacare since 2010, and it has only caused them to lose seats and to lose credibility with the public. Democrats have to face the fact that they own Obamacare, and unless they figure out how to play offense on this issue, they are going to see it drag them down for another cycle. Remember all those House Democrats who expected to weather the Obamacare storm because they voted against ACA in 2009? Two-thirds of those who voted against ACA and ran for re-election in 2010 lost anyway.
Moreover, we know that simply fixing the website won’t be the end of fall-out for the new law. One health insurance industry insider expects the Medicare Advantage program to be the next shoe that drops. The program, which provides private health insurance to more than 14 million seniors, will face cuts in 2014 that this insider expects to result in fewer services, higher costs and narrower options. In other words, if you like your Medicare Advantage program, you can’t keep it.
Last week, Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio took to the floor of the Senate to highlight the case of a local resident “who was forced to change her Medicare Advantage plan because ObamaCare regulations resulted in her insurer removing a medical center from her network.” Expect Republicans to highlight more of these examples in the coming weeks. Angry seniors make for a very dangerous demographic, especially in a mid-term election when they traditionally make up a bigger share of the electorate.
So, what can Democrats do? They can continue to look for “fixes” for every leak that springs. Or they can try to counter the bad stories with the good.
In fact, the most remarkable thing about Obamacare isn’t that the website didn’t work. It’s that there has never been a focused effort from Democrats and/or the White House to promote the signature law of the Obama presidency. One could argue that Instead of rallying for stricter gun laws, or immigration reform or climate change legislation, OFA’s entire purpose since the end of 2012 should have been to make the positive case for the law.
The disastrous website was something that no one could have predicted. But, imagine if the White House or its political operation had been spending time getting legions of grassroots organizers to educate the public about what they should and shouldn’t expect from the new law, debunking rumors and giving specific examples of success in their communities. I’m not saying it would have stopped the damage of the website fiasco, but it may have helped to contain it. Credibility is the coin of the realm. Once you lose it, it is very tough to get it back. You build credibility “before” things go bad, not after they do.
Earlier this week, Democratic Governors Jay Inslee (WA), Steve Beshear (KY) and Dannell Malloy wrote an op-ed titled “How We Got Obamacare to Work.” In it, they give both statistics and specific examples of residents of their states who have been helped by the health care exchanges in their states.
To be sure, a few op-eds won’t be enough to turn the tide. The news media is much more likely to cover controversy than comity. But I also recall that the Obama campaign boasted of its ability to bypass much of the traditional “MSM” with social media. Shouldn’t they be able to use that vaunted digital media strategy they perfected in 2012 to push the message they want to tell to the public?
Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum, and right now, Republicans and those opposed to the law are the only ones filling it. While many Democrats surely want to distance themselves as much as possible from the problems plaguing the website, they will ultimately have to make a case for why they voted for the law in the first place. If they don’t, they will only be attached to the bad things.