“Panic Is Just What Republicans Want”: Democrats Shouldn’t Take GOP’s Bait On Obamacare Implementation
The notion that Obamacare’s implementation could become a major liability for Democrats in 2014 is gaining widespread currency, and today it’s the subject of a big New York Times piece reporting on confident predictions by Republicans that implementation problems will give them a powerful weapon against Dem candidates. Obama is set to do a series of events designed to educate the public on the challenges of implementing the law, beginning with one on Friday where he’ll promote the law’s benefits for women.
It strikes me that GOP Obamacare implementation triumphalism is a tad premature.
Here is how the Times characterizes the sentiment in Dem circles about the coming war over implementation:
Democrats are worried about 2014 — a president’s party typically loses seats in midterm years — and some have gone public with concerns about the pace of carrying out the law. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, told an interviewer last week that he agreed with a recent comment by Senator Max Baucus of Montana, a Democratic architect of the law, who said “a train wreck” could occur this fall if preparations fell short.
The White House has allayed some worries, with briefings for Democrats about their public education plans, including PowerPoint presentations that show areas with target populations down to the block level.
“There’s clearly some concern” among Democrats “that their constituents don’t yet have all facts on how it will work, and that Republicans are filling that vacuum with partisan talking points,” said Representative Steve Israel of New York, head of the House Democrats’ campaign committee. “And the administration must use every tool they have to get around the obstructions and make it work.”
Quotes like these are widely held up as evidence that Republicans are right that Obamacare implementation is shaping up as a major problem for Dems. But this amounts to a fundamental misreading of what it is these Dems are actually saying. Democrats are simply doing exactly what they should be doing — that is, calling for care and caution in the implementation of Obamacare, and calling for a serious effort to educate the public about the challenges and potential pitfalls it entails. This is not tantamount to running away from the law wholesale; nor is it a concession that implementation will amount to a major political albatross.
As Jonathan Cohn has detailed at length, it’s very possible there will be real problems with the health law’s implementation. If that happens, Republicans will relentlessly try to tie Dem candidates to those difficulties, in hopes for a rerun of 2010. But in 2010, public reactions to the new health law were largely suffused with deep anxiety about the severe economic crisis and uncertainty about the new president’s ability to cope with it. Republicans and allied groups made the assault on Obamacare central in 2012, in the presidential race and in many Senate contests, with absolutely nothing to show for it.
Will implementation make things different in 2014? By all means, the problems could be very real, particularly with Republicans intent on subverting implementation wherever possible. Dems should remain vigilant and prepare for turbulence. But they needn’t fret this too much. For one thing, as Josh Barro has noted, implementation is likely to be most keenly felt among those who currently lack insurance, who will naturally see getting insurance as a preferable outcome to nothing at all, even if it proves logistically difficult.
Dem candidates can strike a balance here: They can call for careful implementation and criticize it when it goes awry, while standing squarely behind the law’s overall goal of expanding coverage to the millions of Americans who lack it. What’s more, they can continue to remind the public that Republicans are offering no alternative of their own and simply want to return the country to a pre-reform free-for-all that nobody, particularly the large ranks of the uninsured, wants. This position is the correct one to take, substantively and politically, and it shouldn’t be that hard to get the balance right. After all, whatever the unpopularity of Obamacare, offering nothing in the way of reform isn’t exactly a winning message, either. Major reforms are not easy, and Dems can say so, while pointing to the endless GOP drive to repeal the law to reinforce the notion that Republicans have no interest in actually addressing the country’s most pressing problems.
Dems should refrain from displays of political panic, since panicking is exactly what Republicans want them to do. “A lot of this is psychological warfare,” is how Dem strategist Doug Thornell recently put it. “I would tell Dems not to take the bait.” So would I.
By: Greg Sargent, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, May 7, 2013
As the Boston area was gripped by the manhunt that followed the Marathon bombings late last week, the opinion pages of the Concord Monitor just up the road in New Hampshire were consumed with another subject: Senator Kelly Ayotte’s vote against legislation to expand background checks for gun purchases. The paper’s lead editorial Sunday decried Ayotte’s rationale for opposing the bill as “utter nonsense” and an “abomination.” The letters to the editor section is riddled with anti-Ayotte broadsides, the tenor of which are conveyed by their headlines: “Ayotte’s vote should propel her out of office.” “Beyond disappointed.” “Ayotte did not represent her New Hampshire constituents.” “Enabler of murderers.” “Ayotte’s ‘courage.’” “Craven pandering.” “Reckless vote.” “Illogical vote.”
If gun control advocates are going to have any chance of resurrecting reforms after last week’s crushing defeat, much is going to depend on the depth of the initial backlash against the Democratic or swing-state Republican senators who opted to vote with the gun lobby. In a piece the day after the vote, I lamented that some leading liberals and mainstream media types were so willing to chalk the vote up to the predictable dynamics of the gun control issue, thereby essentially letting the senators who cast the crucial votes against the legislation off the hook for their decisions. One major columnist avoided holding accountable the senators who took the actual votes by wishing that President Barack Obama had acted more like a president in a movie.
But there are signs that the reaction against the vote will be stronger than what has followed prior setbacks for the cause. First, of course, there was the angry cri de coeur from Gabby Giffords. On Friday came spontaneous protests around the country at district offices of senators who voted no. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has set up a number for people to text so they can be patched through to the office of a senator who went the other way. “In years past when we lost on a vote, we had to generate [reaction], we had to push people,” says Brian Malte, the group’s director of mobilization. “This time it’s just directing it to the right place. It’s ‘I’m so angry, what should I do?’”
Perhaps the most surprising outburst came from Bill Daley, the former Clinton commerce secretary, JP Morgan Chase executive and Obama chief of staff. Daley, son and brother of the Chicago mayors of the same name, is no one’s idea of a conscience liberal—in fact, he was a leading voice during the past two decades for making the Democratic Party more welcoming to centrist types, be they pro-business moderates like himself or red-state working-class voters who, yes, cling to their guns. But there he was in Sunday’s Washington Post excoriating the four Senate Democrats who voted against the background-check legislation, particularly Heidi Heitkamp, the newly elected North Dakotan who does not face voters again for another five years:
I want my money back. Last October, I gave $2,500 to support Heidi Heitkamp’s campaign to become North Dakota’s junior senator. A few weeks later, she won a surprise victory. But this week, Heitkamp betrayed those hopes. She voted to block legislation to make gun background checks more comprehensive. Her vote — along with those of 41 Republicans and three other Democrats — was a key reason the measure fell short of the 60 votes needed for passage.
Polling has shown that nine in 10 Americans and eight in 10 gun owners support a law to require every buyer to go through a background check on every gun sale. In North Dakota, the support was even higher: 94 percent. Yet in explaining her vote, Heitkamp had the gall to say that she “heard overwhelmingly from the people of North Dakota” and had to listen to them and vote no. It seems more likely that she heard from the gun lobby and chose to listen to it instead.
Daley is just one person, but this seems pretty significant to me, as a sort of signal to establishment Democrats nationwide. For so long, party poo-bahs have cosseted Democrats from red or purple districts on issues such as gun control—heck, Daley’s fellow Chicagoan Rahm Emanuel deliberately picked pro-gun candidates to run for the House in 2006. Some liberals still seem inclined to cut the Gang of Feckless Four a lot of slack. But here is Daley turning the frame on its head—instead of making excuses for Heitkamp et al, he praised the Democrats running for reelection in tough states who did for the legislation, Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu and North Carolina’s Kay Hagan. They, not Heitkamp and the other three no’s (Max Baucus, Mark Begich and Mark Pryor) will be getting his money from now on, he said.
On the Republican side, the accountability will be left up to the voters in swing states like New Hampshire or Ohio, where Rob Portman also voted against the legislation (after letting it be known that he couldn’t cross party lines on guns after having already done so on gay marriage). It is not at all hard to envision a Democrat running against Kelly Ayotte on a law-and-order-line—here she was, a former attorney general, voting to leave a huge loophole in our system for making sure that felons are unable to purchase guns.
Of course, it won’t be easy. Ayotte, for one, is not even up for reelection until 2016, allowing plenty of time for the memory of her vote to recede in voters’ minds. As political scientists note, the unique circumstances of the gun debate still plays to the advantage of the NRA. But as my colleague Nate Cohn argues, the NRA’s sway has been overstated for some time now—the fact is, not a few senators have managed to survive in purple or red states despite consistently voting against the gun lobby. Last week’s setback was a sign that some senators were not yet willing to embrace that reality, and by doing so, they of course further enshrined facile assumptions of NRA prowess.
But their votes do seem to have produced a visceral reaction unlike any we’ve seen for some time on this front. And rightly so. It would take a jaded soul indeed to feel nothing on reading, say, of the scene Wednesday night in the Oval Office when some of the families who lost children in the Newtown massacre learned that 45 senators had not seen it in them to vote for even the most measured, limited reform: “Mr. Obama hugged the brother of one victim, Daniel Barden, who was 7, and told him to take care of his mother, who was sobbing quietly.”
By: Alec MacGillis, The New Republic, April 23, 2013
This will be short.
So, being the liberal I am I was listening to NPR yesterday just after I debated my weekly sparing partner, Republican Jim Innocenzi, on WTTG-TV here in DC. We went at it on guns. The story on NPR was about the president’s trip to Colorado to highlight his effort on universal background checks and to focus on that state’s passage of legislation to control guns.
Here is what I heard, verbatim, from Dudley Brown, head of the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners in Colorado and the NPR announcer:
“This is a very Western state with traditional Western values,” he says. “And citizens had to have firearms for self-defense, and right now that’s still the case.”
…He’s promising political payback in next year’s election that could cost Colorado Democrats their majorities.
“I liken it to the proverbial hunting season,” Brown says. “We tell gun owners, ‘There’s a time to hunt deer. And the next election is the time to hunt Democrats.’”
Really? After the murders in Kaufman County, Texas and West Virginia of prosecutors and police, he really wants to talk about hunting Democrats, like deer? Is he trying to channel Sarah Palin? Wayne LaPierre, too, I guess. Can we just stop talk of bulls eyes and hunting public officials.
Come on. No one is taking away the 320 million guns in America; no one is stopping the $12 billion the gun industry makes a year; no one is preventing hunting; no one is taking away your constitutional rights.
Sadly, Dudley Brown and the NRA’s answer to gun violence is more guns. What a shame.
By: Peter Fenn, U. S. News and World Report, April 4, 2013
Over the weekend, we learned that New York mayor Michael Bloomberg will spend $12 million airing ads in 13 states pushing senators to support expanded background checks for gun purchases. NRA honcho Wayne LaPierre, in his usual restrained fashion, described Bloomberg’s engagement as “reckless” and “insane,” but what’s so remarkable is that this is something you need an ad war to accomplish. After all, universal background checks (which would extend such checks to gun shows and private sales) enjoy pretty much universal support, with polls showing around 90 percent of Americans in favor, including overwhelming majorities of Republicans and gun owners.
And yet, not only are lots of Republicans still holding back, but even some Democrats are afraid to take a position on universal background checks. Greg Sargent reports that at least five Democratic senators—Mark Pryor (AR), Mary Landrieu (LA), Kay Hagen (NC), Joe Donnelly (IN) and Heidi Heitkamp (SD)—are refusing to say where they stand on the issue. There’s only one reason why: the abject, soul-gripping fear of the red-state Democrat.
There are certainly some times when a legislator would want to withhold judgment on an issue or a bill. Maybe it’s highly technical, or complex and multifaceted, or something that hasn’t been contemplated before, and she needs time to study it and weigh the pros and cons before making a decision. But this isn’t one of those cases. Sure, there are some particulars that would need to be worked out, but at this point the question is relatively simple: Do you support requiring some kind of background check for private gun sales, or not?1
But even with the knowledge that they would have pretty much their entire constituencies behind them if they came out for universal checks, they can’t bring themselves to say where they stand.
This is just one obvious case, but if you’re a red-state Democrat, you have to live with this kind of fear all the time.2 Since you know your party is unpopular in your home state, you have to be constantly looking for ways you can buck the party, and worrying about the times when you support the things your party stands for. Even if your leadership understands the necessity, it has to make things a bit uncomfortable with your colleagues. You’re forever worrying that the voters you represent will grow angry with you, and saying to them, in effect, “Please don’t be mad at me.” And the more the issue touches on “cultural” matters implicating what people see as their identities, the more fear it inspires, since the senator doesn’t want to be tarred with the lethal “She’s not one of us” attack in her next election.
All politicians have to worry about upsetting the folks back home, which is why they aren’t, as a group, particularly courageous. But the more precarious your electoral situation is, the less freedom you have to just say what you believe. And the red-state Democrats act as though they have no freedom at all. It just seems like a terrible way to live.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, March 25, 2013
1. The NRA’s argument against universal background checks has two parts. The first is that criminals won’t get them, so why bother? By that logic, of course, there’s no point in having laws against murder or robbery either. The second is that it will be an inconvenience for law-abiding gun owners, adding crushing “bureaucracy” to the simple process of adding to your arsenal. The truth, however, is that there are so many licensed gun dealers in America that you’re never more than a few miles from one. I made some graphs breaking out the numbers state by state here; Mayors Against Illegal Guns (an organization funded by Bloomberg) distributed the data geographically to show that 98.4 percent of Americans live within ten miles of a gun dealer. What that means is that instead of completing your gun purchase in 60 seconds, it might take you an hour, since you’d have to go down to the gun shop and have them run a check. Unless you’re buying a gun every day, that doesn’t seem like that much of a burden.
2. There are some blue state Republicans too, but for some reason they don’t seem to have so many visible displays of terror. Perhaps Mark Kirk and Susan Collins wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, having suffered through nightmares in which their constituents chase after them with pitchforks and torches, enraged by their refusal to support minimum-wage hikes and same-sex marriage. But somehow I doubt it.