Politics

Marc Caputo: GOP gives Obamacare some public-relations help

 

mcaputo@MiamiHerald.com

Obamacare has unexpected boosters: the politicians who hate Obamacare.

The more Washington Republicans have fought the unpopular Affordable Care Act, the more popular it has paradoxically become, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll last week.

The partial government shutdown — precipitated by the GOP over Obamacare — and the DC brinksmanship over the nation’s debt limit has started to damage Republicans much more than Democrats.

The Republican Party’s approval ratings now stand at historic lows, according to Gallup and the Journal/NBC polls. “That is an ideological boomerang,” Bill McInturff, a GOP pollster who helped conduct the Journal/NBC survey with a Democratic pollster, told NBC.

“As the debate has been going on, if there is a break, there is a break against the Republican position.”

What’s more, by precipitating a partial government shutdown, opponents have given the Affordable Care Act even more precious public-relations help, drowning out major news coverage of the utter failure of Obamacare’s website.

But those stories and columns can’t compete with the volume of coverage over the effects of the shutdown and the failed Washington talks that surround it.

Because of the shutdown, Upper Keys fishermen can’t guide in much of Florida Bay, which is property of the closed Everglades National Park. Military death benefits were initially threatened along with the Head Start early-education program, Meals on Wheels and the nutrition program for poor women and kids called WIC.

Then there are the annoying effects of the shutdown: federal government websites that are essentially closed to anyone seeking basic government data.

That, too, could perversely give Obamacare a measure of p.r. cover. The Obamacare sign-up website has been a failure since it opened Oct. 1. But on that day, the shutdown began. It won’t be difficult for many people to surmise that a partial-government shutdown has broken Obamacare’s website — even though it’s not true.

So Washington Republicans will get the blame for ruining one part of Obamacare for which they have little culpability.

And they get more blame for the shutdown overall.

And they’ll likely face more blame if debt-ceiling talks collapse and the economy goes on the fritz (or worse).

There’s reason establishment Republicans called the strategy to tie a temporary budget increase to defunding or delaying Obamacare foolish: It’s helping Obamacare and hurting the GOP. It’ll likely stay that way for now, unless Democrats overplay what looks like a winning hand and appear to play games.

But despite the raft of polling showing that establishment GOP figures were correct (along with Democrats, nonpartisan pundits and pollsters of all stripes), the far right led by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is responding with talking points from a parallel universe that says it’s not so bad.

There is some precedent for not believing the establishment and conventional wisdom, however. The giveaway of a bank bailout under President George W. Bush was rushed amid Wall Street fear-mongering. And doom-and-gloom predictions about automatic spending cuts (aka: “the sequester”) never came to fruition after a 2011 budget deal.

But here’s what the far right is ignoring: The brinksmanship over the 2011 budget talks led Standard & Poor’s to downgrade U.S. debt.

“The downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges,” S & P analysts wrote.

“The gulf between the political parties over fiscal policy,” it wrote, “makes us pessimistic about the capacity of Congress and the administration to be able to leverage their agreement this week into a broader fiscal consolidation plan that stabilizes the government’s debt dynamics any time soon.”

That was August 2011.

Since then, the far right has become more emboldened despite President Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential win and the calls for Republican leaders to play smarter politics.

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio appeared to heed the call when it came to backing comprehensive immigration reform. But the conservative blowback was significant.

Rubio this July started talking less about immigration and more about defunding Obamacare or not voting for a debt-ceiling increase without a balanced-budget plan.

Rubio joined a Republican filibuster Saturday to block a so-called “clean” debt ceiling increase.

“I opposed Senate Democrats’ latest attempt to raise the debt limit by $1.1 trillion because it fails to address our real debt crisis, reform spending, encourage economic growth and do the necessary things to protect the American dream,” Rubio said.

But Democrats are making the case that failing to increase the debt limit could crash the economy and thereby ruin the American dream quickly. Also, Rubio did relatively little as a state House member and Florida House speaker to grapple with rising health insurance costs in a state with one of the highest rates of the uninsured.

There’s also a measure of irony in Rubio’s criticisms of the lack of certainty caused by Obamacare and current tax-and-spending policy: The Republican-precipitated budget-and-debt fights have led to economic uncertainty.

Some Republicans, like newly elected Gainesville U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, are part of a vocal but still-small group that are being branded “debt deniers” when it comes to their opposition to lifting the debt ceiling. “I think we need to have that moment where we realize [we’re] going broke,” Yoho told the Washington Post. “I think, personally, it would bring stability to the world markets.”

The overwhelming number of business leaders, economists and nonpartisan analysts say failure to lift the debt ceiling (set to be reached Oct. 17 or so) would eventually cause serious economic problems.

But Yoho and company say they’re not convinced. They say the Treasury Department, unable to fund government at current levels without a debt-limit increase, could prioritize payments to ensure there was no debt default and make sure that Social Security and Medicare payments are properly prioritized by the administration.

Yeah. Leave complex new computing tasks in the hands of the Obama administration.

It has worked so well for Obamacare’s sign-in website. And the GOP.

Read more Marc Caputo stories from the Miami Herald

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