GOP goes quiet on ObamaCare
By Elise Viebeck - 05/12/14 06:00 AM EDT
House Republicans have no scheduled votes or hearings on ObamaCare, signaling a shift in the party’s strategy as the White House rides a wave of good news on the law.
Not a single House committee has announced plans to attack the healthcare law in the coming weeks, and only one panel of jurisdiction commented to The Hill despite repeated inquiries.
GOP campaign committees also declined to say whether they will launch any new efforts on the law.
The lack of action highlights the GOP’s struggle to adjust its message now that enrollment in the exchanges beat projections and the uninsured rate is going down. Insurers also report that 80 to 90 percent of new policyholders are paying their premiums, contradicting a frequent criticism from the GOP.
This dynamic was laid bare last week as Republicans failed to land punches against the healthcare law in a hearing of a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee. In a rare display, Democrats began to control the message as witnesses from health insurance companies rebuffed several lines of GOP questioning.
Republicans are conscious of the need to keep a drumbeat going against the law.The National Republican Senatorial Committee released a memo on Friday that said the law remained deeply unpopular and that “liberal media elites” touting the idea it was a success were beginning to influence beat reporters desperate for a new story.
The memo noted that Democratic candidates aren’t touting their support for the law, a sign of their uneasiness.
But The Washington Post reported Friday that three major groups allied with Democrats will launch public advertising campaigns about ObamaCare.
The Service Employees International Union, Planed Parenthood Action Fund and MoveOn.org are each launching campaigns that highlight popular parts of the Affordable Care Act. The ads are meant to boost the law and officials who backed it.
Republicans remain confident the reform won’t work, and that the party’s opposition to it will be rewarded in elections to come.
Hitting a new record, 55 percent disapproved of ObamaCare in the latest Pew poll, a finding that bolsters GOP confidence that the law’s unpopularity will help them in this year’s elections.
At the same time, Republican aides and strategists said the party is taking the opportunity to broaden its portfolio of issues ahead of November amid a changing landscape on healthcare
“They are now recognizing that they need to be more than a one-trick pony,” said Ford O'Connell, a veteran of Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) presidential campaign and chairman of CivicForumPAC.
This is evident in the new energy House Republicans are putting into a probe into the Benghazi attacks, and a range of pocketbook issues that dovetail nicely with the past criticisms of the healthcare law.
“The two go hand in hand,” GOP pollster Glen Bolger said. “[Voters] are just worried about the quality of their healthcare declining. They're also worried it’s going to cost them more money, and generally more money for less is not a winning proposition.
The change in focus is also evident in what Republicans are not doing.
Last fall, the GOP tore into ObamaCare around the clock, and criticisms of the law became a huge story amid the enrollment website's woes. Now, major news events related to the Affordable Care Act barely draw a Republican response.
Republicans virtually ignored the final release of ObamaCare's enrollment numbers and a report that healthcare spending jumped in the first quarter of 2014. Mentions of the law have dwindled in press conferences by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), where they were a mainstay earlier this year.
And on the Senate side, the usual partisan rancor was almost completely absent during last week’s confirmation hearing for the next Health and Human Services secretary. Only a few GOP senators mentioned ObamaCare in their questions, and three Republicans failed to attend the event at all.
The House has no plans to vote on ObamaCare legislation in May, according to a memo from Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) released late last month.
It is also unclear when the party's replacement proposal for the law will come to a vote.
Despite pressure from conservatives, Cantor has not committed to put a bill on the House floor by August recess.
Democratic leaders have long insisted the law would boost their electoral hopes in the fall, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) predicted this week that GOP opposition would haunt Republicans.
“The Republican position of repeal has become increasingly problematic for GOP Senate candidates, so it’s no surprise that they’re beginning to abandon their failed strategy of wasting millions attacking Democrats on ObamaCare,” said DSCC spokesman Justin Barasky.
On the campaign trail, it is clear that some candidates and groups are starting to pivot.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently launched its first major ad campaign looking toward the general election.
While all the ads touted GOP lawmakers’ and candidates’ work to boost the economy and create jobs, only a handful made mention of ObamaCare.
Looking toward his general election fight, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) released an ad last week that also focused on job creation.
McConnell and others are sure to highlight the unpopular law in the coming months. But it remains to be seen how much, and that will largely depend on whether ObamaCare-related premiums increase this summer.
Republicans argue the transition is natural for this stage in the campaign cycle.“There is absolutely zero evidence that any Republican is talking about ObamaCare less,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee spokeswoman Brook Hougesen in a statement.