President, or Party?
Which is more important: preserving a Democratic president’s legacy achievement even if it costs the Party its hold on one house of Congress and perhaps sinks its chance to capture the other house? Or is it more important to have a strategic retreat to preserve those opportunities and refocus the debate onto more favorable terms? Despite Nancy Pelosi's brave pronouncements publicly today, she and Harry Reid need to put the party first when it comes to 2014.
Obama has lost the necessary political support within his own party to hold onto Obamacare in its current form. Of course there will be no opportunity to “fix” it with the current Congress, but that doesn’t mean Congressional Democrats should walk the plank once again to support a lame-duck and frankly incompetent White House. And note that we’ve been here before: Obama hung congressional Democrats out to dry by pushing health care reform ahead of financial reform and a fully functioning economy back in 2009, which led to Democratic losses in the 2010 midterms and the Tea Party cancer we have today.
I have no idea why the administration didn’t plan ahead for all bad contingencies like the industry sending out millions of cancellation notices, or know months ago that the website wasn’t ready for launch, but those facts on the ground now are imperiling the Democratic Party’s opportunities. Republicans are assuming that Democratic incumbents will fight to support the White House and go down with the ship next November. What the GOP isn’t counting on are Congressional Democrats signaling that health care reform needs to be redone and perhaps not under this president. Sure, the GOP will chortle for several news cycles about how Obama lost his own party, but that will be a short-lived high when Democrats confront their Republican challengers with “so what is your plan? Why weren’t you this concerned about people keeping their insurance until recently?” Obviously, the GOP has no real concern about people losing their coverage, and of course Obamacare is the GOP plan – from 1993.
To those who say you can’t go back, that rethinking the mandate and how to cover the middle class can’t be done now that we’re this far down the road, I respond “not so.” Obama has already achieved an expansion of Medicaid that would have been unthinkable a short while ago. Millions of Americans below 133% of the federal poverty level will now have health care coverage, for not only medical but also mental health needs. And for those GOP governors that still refuse the expansion, HHS can allow them to submit waiver requests to implement state programs that achieve the same overall goal but tailored to suit local preferences.
As for the middle class going uncovered if the mandate and federal exchanges are suspended pending congressional action to “fix” health care reform, Democrats can let the GOP face pressure from voters, hospitals, and the HMOs, who still would have to abide by the pre-existing condition and age-26 reforms without the benefit of the wider risk pools envisioned by getting healthy younger people covered through the exchanges. Would insurance rates go up? Sure, and the GOP and HMO’s can be accountable for that result with the right Democratic messaging, while Congress makes sure state insurance commissioners have broader latitude to regulate rate increases. What the GOP doesn’t want is for health care reform to be re-litigated for another presidential cycle, where a libertarian “you’re on your own” GOP message would lead to another electoral drubbing.
Clearly, the GOP expects to hammer Democrats next year with the Obamacare hammer. Democrats should remove that hammer from the GOP tool bag now, and instead pivot to the threat that perhaps we need to run the 2016 presidential election on health care all over again, plus jobs, immigration reform, and financial responsibility – four issues where the GOP loses big with the likely 2016 electorate. Progressive Democrats were never big fans of Obamacare and the deals made behind the scenes with Big Pharma and the HMO’s to get it done, and a replay of this debate with the lessons learned from the first one may lead to better results like single-payer or at the least the public option. The GOP has nothing to offer in dealing with voters’ ongoing concerns about health care, and their shortsighted strategy of taking down Obama and Democrats with Obamacare makes them vulnerable in 2016 when the electorate sees once again that just like 2012, the GOP has no solutions on health care or any of the other issues voters want action on.
Take away the hammer. Outflank the GOP and make them fight on terrain better suited to Democrats. Sadly, Obamacare may end up being stillborn, but the administration’s inability to do basic governance and policy does not require the Democratic Party to walk the plank once again.