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“Forget The Conventional Wisdom”: What Florida Really Tells Us About Obamacare

Was it really Obamacare that sunk Sink? I mean of course Alex Sink, the Democratic Florida congressional candidate who lost to Republican David Jolly on Tuesday. After the results were announced, Washington’s conventional wisdom congealed immediately: This was all about Obamacare, and it’s going to doom the Democrats come November.

Not so fast, says Geoff Garin, the pollster who did Sink’s polling in the race. Garin argues in a memo he released the day of the voting that “the issue ultimately provided more of a lift than a drag to her campaign.” He followed up by telling me yesterday: “She would have done worse if she’d neglected to hit back and engage the issue.” There’s a lesson in there for Democrats as they march toward November.

Garin put two key questions to the district’s voters. The first paraphrased the criticisms of Sink on Obamacare: Sink supports this law that will take away $716 billion from Medicare, and that caused 300,000 Floridians to lose their coverage and 2,500 patients at a district cancer center to have to change doctors. The second paraphrased criticisms of Jolly’s health-care position: He wants to totally repeal the law instead of fix it, a position that would let insurers again discriminate against the already ill and charge women more than they charge men for coverage. Repeal would also cut expanded prescription-drug coverage for Medicare recipients.

Respondents were asked to say whether this information gave them “very major doubts” about the candidates, “fairly major” doubts, “just some” doubts, or “no real” doubts. Results: While 43 percent now entertained very major doubts about Sink, 50 percent said they had very major doubts about Jolly. And 35 percent had no real doubts about Sink while only 26 percent had no real doubts about Jolly.

If that polling is accurate, then “more lift than drag” is accurate and fair. Guy Molyneux, a partner of Garin’s who oversaw some Obamacare polling for a couple of unions in January, echoed the point that there are at least three things Democrats can say about the law and the Republicans’ repeal zeal that poll really well. People broadly understand, Molyneux told me, that the law protects against discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, and they approve of that strongly. They also know that insurers can no longer drop sick people on whim, and they like that. And they’re getting to know that the law prevents insurers from charging women more than men, and they like that, too; even men.

There’s one more thing that people don’t yet know very well, but the polling indicates that it could be a strong debating point, too: Under the law, insurers have to publicly justify any rate increases greater than 10 percent. This is called rate review, and it and the medical-loss ratio provisions of the law (explained here) are the two main planks that guard against willy-nilly rate hikes. A Heath and Human Services study from last September found that nearly 7 million citizens had saved more than $1 billion because of rate review, and moreover, that insurance companies were seeking increases of 10 percent far less frequently than before the law because of the added oversight.

Since everybody and his brother assumes that the Affordable Care Act is going to increase their rates, seems to me it’d be awfully useful for the Democrats to develop a sharp talking point or two explaining to people that the law actually helps prevent crazy premium increases.

This all makes the Obamacare story a lot more complicated than “disaster for Dems.” It just doesn’t have to be. Republicans know this, too. Why are they, or some of them, suddenly talking about replacing the law? Precisely to try to insulate themselves from the effective Democratic attack that they’d give carte blanche to insurance companies to go back to their old ways.

It’s worth dwelling on this for a paragraph—it’s important to understand. It was in the spring of 2010 that the GOP unveiled “repeal and replace.” They stuck with that through the election. Then, once they’d retaken the House, they dropped “replace” and went for “repeal” only. Now that a midterm election is coming again, though, they’re starting to put “replace” back in their rhetoric. But it’s as hollow this time as it was then. “Our challenge,” Molyneux told me, “is to show that there’s nothing behind the curtain there.”

Lord knows, the Democrats have more problems than health care staring them in the face for the fall. The turnout question is the biggest one, although they say they’re making efforts this time that have no precedent in a midterm election. And Obama’s bad approval numbers—worse still in many of the states with high-profile Senate contests—are a huge factor. “If Obama’s still at 41 percent in mid-October, we’re in a world of hurt,” Molyneux says. And finally, but far from least, the economy. An awful, awful number from this week’s NBC/Wall Street Journal poll: Fully 57 percent of those surveyed said they think we’re still in a recession.

So yeah, there’s a lot for Democrats to worry about. But in most of the contested states—not Louisiana, probably not Arkansas, but the others—they can make Obamacare a net wash if they can be clear about the implications of “repeal” and call out their GOP opponents on “replace.” And maybe as a bonus show they have some fight in them, and give those unmotivated young and Latino voters some good reasons to go to the polls.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, March 14, 2014

March 16, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Obamacare | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“No Bellwether Or Harbinger Of Anything”: Meaningless Special Elections And The Press’s Consequential Imperative

If it were up to me, I would eliminate special elections for the House of Representatives entirely. They make sense when it comes to the Senate, where every state has only two senators and terms run six years, meaning a vacancy can leave a state without significant representation for an extended period of time. But when a congressman dies or retires and there’s another election to fill that critical 1/435th portion of the lower house’s lawmakers in a few months, do we really need to mobilize the state’s electoral resources, spend millions of dollars, and get a bunch of retirees to haul themselves down to the polls, only to do it all again before you know it? Hardly.

The other objectionable thing about special elections is that because they’re almost always the only election happening at that moment, they not only get an inordinate amount of attention, the results also get absurdly over-interpreted. This is a symptom of what we might call the Consequential Imperative among the press (note: if you have a better moniker for this that could propel me to the front rank of contemporary neologism-coiners, hit me up on Twitter). The Consequential Imperative is the impulse, the desire, the need to assert that whatever a journalist happens to be reporting on is very, very important. So for instance, if your editor sent you down to Florida to do a week’s worth of stories on the special election that just concluded there, you are extremely unlikely to write that this election was a contest between a couple of bozos, and means next to nothing for national politics (unless you’re Dave Weigel, who for some reason seems to be almost the only reporter capable of saying such a thing). It’s the same impulse that causes every gaffe, polling blip, and faux-controversy of every campaign to be presented as though it could dramatically alter the outcome of the election, despite all the experience telling us it won’t.

What happens after every special election is this: The losing side says, “This means nothing!”, while the winning side says, “This is a bellwether, signifying more victories to come for us!” And the press almost always agrees with the winning side, whichever party that happens to be, because the Consequential Imperative dictates that, like every other political event, this one must be of great consequence.

So in the case of yesterday’s special election in Florida, we get articles like “Why a Republican Wave In 2014 Is Looking More Likely Now” (National Journal) and “Florida Loss Big Blow to Democrats’ 2014 Hopes” (Politico), explaining that the results of this low-turnout election in one district in Florida can reasonably be extrapolated to tell us what will happen in the November 2014 elections.

As it happens, this race was decided by less than 3,500 votes. To believe that it emphatically means one thing for election outcomes all over America eight months from now, whereas if those 3,500 votes had gone the other way it would have just as emphatically meant the exact opposite, is just absurd. But, you may be saying, that’s because the Republican won! And if the Democrat had won, I’d be saying it really was significant! Well, no. Special elections don’t mean anything beyond deciding which person is going to represent that district until the next election. They may be interesting for one reason or another in and of themselves, but they’re never a harbinger or a bellwether of any national trend. If you ever catch me saying otherwise, feel free to call me a hypocrite and a fool.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, March 12, 2014

March 13, 2014 Posted by | Election 2014, Politics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Maybe It’s Just A Coincidence”: Chris Christie’s Self-Serving Senate Election Calendar

So Chris Christie’s announced the schedule for a special election to replace the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg, and short of appointing himself, he’s taken the route most likely to serve his own political interests. Here’s NBC’s report:

Christie announced at a press conference that he had opted against appointing a successor to Lautenberg to serve until the 2014 election, and scheduled a general election on Oct. 16. The primary will be held in August. Christie also said he would appoint an interim senator to serve between now and November, though he explained that he had not decided on that temporary appointee yet.

With this decision, Christie is potentially helping create the conditions for a big win in his re-election contest against Democrat Barbara Buono this November. Without a contested Senate campaign happening at the same time as his own re-election, turnout among Democrats is likely to be far lower, allowing Christie to run up the margin of victory in a race he is already a big favorite to win.

That, in turn, could make him look like a more formidable presidential candidate in 2016 should he choose to run.

Beyond that, it gets Christie off the hook of an obligation to appoint a senator that pleases both his party’s conservative “base” (not just in New Jersey, but nationally) and a general electorate, and gives the former a decent shot to get a conservative senator into office via a low-turnout special election. That will probably, however, be viewed as a consolation prize to right-wingers who wanted him to appoint one of their own to the seat right on up to November 2014 (a legally dubious proposition).

And there’s another problem:

Christie’s decision to hold a special election in October could also be a gamble, leaving the governor open to criticisms of making a self-serving decision and causing a hefty financial cost to the state that could run as high as $24 million for the special election.

Christie said he wasn’t aware of what the cost would be – but in typical Christie fashion, said it didn’t matter.

“I don’t know what the cost would is, and quite frankly I don’t care,” he said. “The cost cannot be measured against the value of having an elected representative in the United States Senate when so many important issues are being debated this year.”

Blah blah blah. Rationalizations aside, Christie looked at the angles and did what was best for Chris Christie. Maybe it’s just a coincidence.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, June 4, 2013

June 6, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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