If you enjoyed the three-year Republican campaign to undermine Obamacare, you'll love the next 12 months. A document obtained by The New York Times outlines House Republicans' upcoming attacks on the law, hoping to parlay a rocky month for the law into a permanent political advantage. Wars start from disputes on principle. But the battles are pure, unflinching mechanics.
The cover of next week's Time magazine makes clear the status of the debate, probably inadvertently. The "broken promise" of Obamacare: What it means for this presidency. Under that, smaller: What it means for your health care. Granted, political machinations are more interesting than the intricacies of health law, but that ordering certainly reflects the thinking on Capitol Hill.
The Times' report on the House Republican plan suggests that the party plans to continue its existing strategy of placing anti-Obamacare anecdotes in rhetorical context through media outreach and congressional pressure. "The idea," the paper reports, "is to gather stories of people affected by the health care law … and use them to open a line of attack, keep it going until it enters the public discourse and forces a response, then quickly pivot to the next topic." It links to the talking points issued by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor that outline the plan — a document, amusingly enough, that uses the "Gotham" typeface made famous in Obama's 2008 campaign.
The goal, according to [Republican caucus chair Kathy] McMorris Rodgers, is to use all the “Republican voices we have in the House, the media markets in all the districts we represent, to take our message all over the country.”
“It penetrates,” she said. “It’s powerful.”
The Cantor memo also outlines a series of YouTube videos and "viral" images for members to share like that at left; a sidebar on the first page offers a helpful hashtag for members to use in their communications. (How successful this will be isn't clear. Illinois Rep. John Shimkus worried that he was "not that hip" when asked to participate in a Google hangout.) It's part and parcel with the broader plan: get clever things in front of people, gather their anti-Obamacare stories, use those stories to hammer the president and the Democrats.
In 2014. There's no question that the Republican attack is a campaign tactic. The memo outlines phases of Obamacare implementation through 2018, labeling each with a pejorative: January 1, 2014, launches a phase called "Decreased Access and a Weakened Safety Net." Advocacy groups aren't waiting to launch attacks over Obamacare. Americans For Prosperity, a Koch-funded group, recently issued an ad attacking embattled Alaska Democrat Sen. Mark Begich on Obamacare — an ad quickly revealed to feature an actress from Maryland, not an Obamacare-affected Alaskan.
"The effort," The Times writes, "has its roots in a strategy developed last spring, when House Republican leaders — plagued by party divisions that were thwarting legislative accomplishments — refocused the House's committees on oversight rather than on the development of new policies." If you had any doubt that House hearings were often motivated by politics, the first page of the Cantor memo will settle that issue: On the subject of patient privacy, there are already three hearings scheduled.
Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa, as is his wont, has wasted no time in going after the balky Healthcare.gov rollout. On Wednesday, his committee released emails sent within the administration shortly before the site went live, showing concern about the testing process. It's the sort of thing that fits squarely into the anecdote-first strategy McMorris Rodgers supports, but, in a broader sense, shows next to nothing about the site development. Grainy emails with redacted sections can make a stronger point than the words within the email, which is a lesson that Issa doesn't need to learn.
Democrats, meanwhile, intend to respond to the Republican attacks by differentiating between "fix" and "repeal." As The Washington Post reports, they'll point out that Americans support fixes to the system's problems but generally oppose repealing it in bulk. The Democrats plan to talk about "Cruz Care," suggesting that the gut-it-all position of Sen. Ted Cruz is what the Republicans really seek in their opposition to Obamacare.
Which is also incorrect. Obamacare isn't going anywhere until January 2017 at the earliest, when a new president is sworn in. (That phase of Obamacare, Cantor's memo calls "Further Costs.") In order to attain that repeal, to win the war, the Republican party will spend months trying to undermine a bill that has moved from being the president's signature legislation to being the Democrats'. The struggle is just getting underway.