2014 will see the first midterm elections after Obamacare's major components have gone into effect, meaning it's likely to be a big issue — and a negative one. Democrats' damage control strategy will likely come down to: "The Republicans would do worse."
Politico got access to a Democratic party memo outlining how the party plans to argue that the GOP would raise drug prices, empower insurance companies, and deny coverage to female victims of domestic violence. That last part is a reach — Republican plans would allow pre-existing conditions to factor back into insurance, and at times some states have treated domestic violence as a "condition". Overall, the memo calls for a major shift in the way Democrats deal with Obamacare on the campaign trail: Acknowledge that the law has problems, but offer solutions.
Democrats facing close (and or doomed) re-election campaigns are already putting the memo's plan of action to work, trying to distance themselves from the law's unpopular aspects while also painting themselves as fixers. Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, who has been attacked over and over for voting for Obamacare, recently released an ad saying she'd allow people to keep their junk plans. “I’m fixing it, and that’s what my bill does," the ad states, "and I’ve urged the president to fix it." In an ad for Arizona Rep. Anna Kirkpatrick, another embattled Democrat, an announcer reminds us that, “she blew the whistle on the disastrous health care website, calling it ‘stunning ineptitude’ and worked to fix it.”
Red-state Democrats have been jumping ship on Obamacare since the system launched, voting for laws that undermine the law since October and distancing themselves from President Obama for months. Now it's the party line. Before, the argument was that Republicans didn't have a plan, but now that House Speaker John Boehner and the GOP want to rebrand as the (Obamacare) alternative party, the new Democrat argument is that that alternative is horrible, that voting for Republicans would lead to payouts for insurance companies, higher drug rates, and no coverage for birth control.
The good news for Democrats is that the majority of Americans, 56 percent, support repairing the law, while only 34 percent support a full repeal, according to a CBS poll. The bad news? Pretty much everyone agrees the rollout of the law did not go well — and not just the website launch — and someone needs to be blamed for that, which means Republicans' attack ads basically write themselves. Republicans wanted to make the primaries a referendum on Obamacare, and they may get their wish.
It's not like the Republican party would — or could — change Obamacare. They aren't sure it's worth the risk to propose an alternative and, until President Obama leaves office, most of their suggestions aren't likely to be signed into law. That'll be true no matter who controls the Senate next year, meaning that the messaging in 2016 could be different once again.