Congressional Republicans have passed a budget, raised the debt limit and punted on immigration reform with one goal in mind. They want to make the 2014 midterm elections about Obamacare.
The party seems to be so confident of this strategy that it doesn’t appear to have any “Plan B,” as The Washington Post‘s Greg Sargent continually points out.
While going all-in on the Affordable Care Act makes sense inside the right-wing mindset, where the law is one Fox News interview from disappearing to wherever Mitt Romney was supposed to go, seniors — America’s most reliable voters — may end up leading a backlash against a post-government-shutdown Republican Party that is even less popular now than when George W. Bush left office.
Undoubtably, the poll numbers for the president’s health law remain low months after HealthCare.gov’s bungled rollout — even though it has helped lead the country to the lowest uninsured rate in five years.
But since the 2010 election, after which real, live Americans began gaining health insurance coverage due to the Affordable Care Act, has there been even one election that has been swayed by Obamacare?
Having been the godfather of the law didn’t cost Mitt Romney the 2012 GOP primary. Having signed the bill into law didn’t cost President Obama his re-election. It didn’t stop Democrats from picking up seats in the Senate and the House. Since 2012, Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) was re-elected after accepting Medicaid expansion and Terry McAuliffe won Virginia’s governorship with a jobs plan centered upon expanding Medicaid.
In Florida, Democrat Alex Sink narrowly leads Republican David Jolly in a special election to replace Rep. Bill Young (R-FL), who passed away late last year. As Jolly attacks Sink on Obamacare, Sink defends the most popular part of the law — the ban on insurers considering pre-existing conditions — and attacks Jolly on Medicare.
Republicans exploited seniors’ fears of Medicare cuts in 2010 — then voted for the same cuts when they took the House. They also went a step further by proposing a plan to radically remake the single-payer system that provides health coverage to every American 65 or older.
Jolly, a lobbyist, has never officially endorsed or voted for the plan created by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) to turn Medicare into a voucher system. However, nearly every sitting Republican member of the House — including the likely GOP nominee for the U.S. Senate in Arkansas Rep. Tom Cotton — has.
Ryan’s plan and opposition to Obamacare earned him boos when he spoke at the AARP convention as Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012. And it was certainly part of the reason he was barely visible in the last few weeks of the campaign.
And since the 2012 election, Republicans’ standing with seniors has only deteriorated.
“In 2010, seniors voted for Republicans by a 21-point margin (38 percent to 59 percent),” Democracy Corps’ Erica Siefert noted in her post “Why Seniors Are Turning Against The GOP,” published months before the government shutdown.
In the latest McClatchy-Marist National Poll, the GOP only had a 4-point margin over Democrats.
The same poll found that 58 percent of adults 45-59 and 54 percent of those 60 and older had an unfavorable view of the president. However, 73 percent of adults 45-59 and 74 percent of those 60 and older also reported an unfavorable view of Republicans in Congress.
Democrats recognize that Obamacare may be a liability and are circulating talking points that call attention to the fact that “65 percent of voters agree with the statement ‘we’ve wasted too much time talking about Obamacare and we have other problems to deal with.'” This aligns with polls that show again and again that most people would rather keep and fix the law than repeal it completely.
But it’s quite possible that the GOP’s stand on Medicare could ultimately be more harmful to their prospects than Obamacare is for Democrats.
Any Republican who sticks with repeal can be charged with wanting to raise prescription drug prices for seniors. Along with eliminating the closing of the Medicare drug “donut hole,” repeal also would erase subsidies that are potentially helping millions of older Americans afford care.
“I just cried, I was so relieved,” said 58-year-old Maureen Grey after using her new plan — purchased with the help of Obamacare subsidies — to visit a doctor.
Adults aged 55-64 make up 31 percent of the new enrollees in the health care marketplaces set up by the law. A new Associated Press report notes that workers nearing retirement have been hardest hit by the Great Recession and are in the most desperate need of what the law offers:
Aging boomers are more likely to be in debt as they enter retirement than were previous generations, with many having purchased more expensive homes with smaller down payments, said economist Olivia Mitchell of University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. One in five has unpaid medical bills and 17 percent are underwater with their home values. Fourteen percent are uninsured.
As of December, 46 percent of older jobseekers were among the long-term unemployed compared with less than 25 percent before the recession.
And those financial setbacks happened just as their health care needs became more acute. Americans in their mid-50s to mid-60s are more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than other age groups, younger or older, accounting for 3 in 10 of the adult diabetes diagnoses in the United States each year. And every year after age 50, the rate of cancer diagnosis climbs.
For many of these Americans, the Medicare guarantee isn’t some distant, theoretical promise. It’s a necessity.
And with Obamacare bridging the gap until retirement, Republicans may find that their decision to make the 2014 election about health care will be as ill-advised as shutting down the government to defund it.
Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr