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“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

May 13, 2013 - Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Republicans | , , , , , , ,

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