Obamacare has taken a sudden and spectacular dive in public opinion, according to a new poll from Gallup. Capitol Hill Democrats are splintering, regularly undermining President Obama's tacit demand that they stay united in the bill's defense. What the party wouldn't give for it to be one month ago.
On this day in October the roles were flipped. The Obamacare website was a mess and there were reports of people losing their existing coverage, but the big story was the shutdown. Democrats stood quietly, arm-in-arm, watching the Republican Party trip all over itself, Three Stooges-style. Now, the alliterative mantra of "Democrats in disarray" is back, and the Republicans are starting to lock arms.
The news from Gallup is particularly bad for the Affordable Care Act. Late last month, opinion of the bill was about evenly split, with 44 percent of Americans supporting it and 47 percent opposing — a 3-point difference. Since, that difference has quintupled, with only 40 percent of the country supporting the bill and 55 percent opposing. "Currently, 73% of Democrats, 39% of independents, and 8% of Republicans approve of the healthcare law," Gallup writes, noting the particularly bad news: opinion has dropped among all parties, including Democrats. Meanwhile, the number of people saying that health care is the country's biggest problem has gone up 7 points since last month — though "dissatisfaction with government" continues to lead the way.
MSNBC's Benjy Sarlin points out that Obama has regularly seen stiff opposition to his policy proposals. But Obamacare, for several reasons, poses a much more severe risk.
This time the challenge is much more tangible. Either the exchange works or it doesn’t. Either people getting cancellation notices can find acceptable, affordable coverage or they can’t. There’s no messaging substitute for success on either front.
So Democrats, who The Daily Beast' Michael Tomasky notes aren't exactly known for holding strong in the face of adversity, are starting to go sideways. Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu introduced a bill that would allow people to keep their existing health care plans. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin has announced his support for that bill, telling Morning Joe that Obamacare has "more than a roll-out problem. There is a product problem." Landrieu faces a difficult reelection challenge next year, and Manchin represents an increasingly conservative state, but they aren't the only ones to bail. Even party-line adherents like California Sen. Dianne Feinstein are calling for some sort of legislative response.
We noted earlier this week why such a fix is tricky, threatening the economics that are supposed to make Obamacare work for the private sector. At New York, Jonathan Chait outlines why such changes are tricky. But politics has a habit of getting in the way of (both parties') best-laid plans. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told participants in The Atlantic's Washington Ideas Forum on Thursday morning that she expected an announcement from the president in support of a fix at some point today.
Michigan Rep. Fred Upton has introduced a bill in the House that, like Landrieu's, would allow people to keep their plans, but only for a period of two years. If both pass, there could be a conference committee to work out a compromise. The Republicans could say that they'd helped Americans worried about coverage — but, as The Atlantic's Molly Ball points out, inadvertently take ownership over the program, perhaps even saving it from political backlash. It's not a possibility Democrats are embracing: Pelosi called the Upton vote the 46th vote for repeal, and the administration opposes the Upton bill, saying that it undermines "the central promise of the Affordable Care Act."
In general, though, the Republicans are just trying to clear all of their members from the tracks as the Obamacare train rumbles haphazardly along. Politico suggests that the party found "political gold" in the issue — as long as it holds its natural inclination to overreach in check.
They will pass Obamacare-related bills when opportunities arise — like [Upton's] this week — but Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) neatly encapsulated the party’s emerging strategy: “We should be just like a doctor and do no harm.”
“Obamacare is the gift that keeps on giving,” a senior House aide said on condition of anonymity. “We just need to keep out of the way.”
If that's the strategy, this bit of news from the Washington Examiner can't be welcome: "Ted Cruz previews new plan to repeal and replace Obamacare." Cruz, of course, initiated the government shutdown at the beginning of October that put the Republicans on defense for several weeks and deeply undermined their popularity. The party greatly prefers the position they're in this month.