Marc Caputo: GOP ‘lost ground’ in Obamacare war

10/20/2013 6:22 PM

10/20/2013 6:23 PM

A mathematical comparison of the latest political disasters is straightforward: Government shutdown > Obamacare website woes.

That = bad news for the GOP.

Polls show the public disapproves most of congressional Republicans after they precipitated the partial shutdown to stop the Affordable Care Act. Tea party poll numbers are lower than ever.

The shutdown could have cost the economy as much as $24 billion. After it ended, the Affordable Care Act remained, the failures of its sign-up website drowned out by intramural GOP conflict.

Florida Republicans — including congressional candidates, the governor and the GOP senator — are on defense.

Was anything gained?

“No. I think there was some ground lost from a political point of view,” former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican, told ABC’s This Week on Sunday. “Tactically, it was a mistake to focus on something that couldn’t be achieved.”

When asked about Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s pledge to “do anything” to stop the act, Bush said the GOP needs to “start solving problems” and do a better job of picking its battles.

“Have a little bit of self-restraint,” said Bush, who also faulted President Barack Obama’s leadership.

Many Republicans running for office are far more reticent about criticizing Cruz’s tactics — including Bush’s son, George P. Bush, a candidate for Texas land commissioner who said he supported the senator’s defund-Obamacare push.

But Jeb Bush’s blunt comments are the antithesis of those of Florida’s current governor, Rick Scott.

Three days before the Oct. 1 shutdown, Scott said little about the effects it could have on the state’s economy and jobs.

“They ought to do what we’ve done: We’ve balanced our budget, we lived within our means. We paid down our debts, over $7 billion worth of debt. And gosh, our economy’s going,” Scott said.

Asked again about his concerns, if any, Scott said only, “I think they ought to look at what we’ve done, because it’s worked in our state.”

Then the shutdown happened.

Scott was asked during one media availability whether he supported the GOP congressional decision to link the Affordable Care Act to the budget. Scott wouldn’t answer directly, instead blaming Obama for failing to compromise.

Then the shutdown ended with a deal to reopen the government and avoid a confrontation over the nation’s borrowing limit.

“Washington’s failure to reach a long-term agreement on the debt ceiling confirms our nation’s leaders have their heads in the sand about our economic future,” Scott then wrote in a statement.

Democrats were quick to identify Scott as a tea partier, a sign that they believe the right wing of the conservative movement will hurt Republicans. Still, surveys also show that the poll numbers of Obama and Democrats have taken a hit, albeit a lesser one when compared to Republicans.

If Obamacare’s website remains problematic, or if the program starts to fail more broadly, those numbers could flip.

Democrats are on offense for now. They hope the damage to the GOP brand is real and will remain bigger than Obamacare’s problems until the midterm elections next year.

In the most-competitive congressional seat in the Miami area, District 26, the main Republican challenger to incumbent Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia was targeted by Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee robo-calls to voters last week.

“Carlos Curbelo refuses to disown Washington Republicans’ shutdown,” the DCCC’s caller says in the script.

Curbelo — an opponent of Obamacare — did oppose the shutdown, but like other Republicans he blamed Democrats for it, partly because they didn’t support piecemeal bills from the GOP-led House that would have reopened parts of the government.

For obvious reasons, though, Curbelo wasn’t cranking out multiple campaign statements highlighting the shutdown.

Miami’s most-recognizable political figure, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, was among the first in the Senate to link Obamacare and a budget deal. But Rubio appeared far more cautious than Cruz or Sen. Mike Lee.

Rubio said in a Fox News Sunday interview that the latest rancor in Washington will make passage of an immigration-reform bill tougher in the U.S. House.

“I was never in favor of shutting down the government or of defunding the government. I was in favor of voting to fund the government fully,” Rubio said on the show. “The only thing I didn’t want to see is us wasting any more money on Obamacare, which is already a disaster.”

Democrats pounced and said Rubio was downplaying the fact that he once said Republicans should “go all the way” to defund the Affordable Care Act.

Obamacare is still in its infancy. The full effect of the law, whether it’s good or bad, will take months or years to determine.

On Sunday, Rubio’s former mentor, Bush, sounded far more like a critic of the shutdown tactic that the senator helped endorse (there’s an off-chance that both Miami-area politicians could run against each other for president in 2016).

Bush essentially predicted the Affordable Care Act is doomed because of its structure, not just its website. But Republicans need to show there’s a better way.

Bush didn’t provide specifics and also didn’t mention that the heart of Obamacare is patterned on an insurance concept that was once so favored by Republicans that Obama’s 2012 rival, Republican Mitt Romney, instituted it in Massachusetts when he was governor.

“The best way to repeal Obamacare is to have an alternative,” Bush said. “We never hear the alternative: We can do this at a much lower cost with improved quality based on our principles, free-market principles.

“We don’t even hear about that because we’ve stepped on that message,” he said. “And I think Republicans need to take a step back, show a little self-restraint and let this happen a little more organically.”

About Marc Caputo

Marc Caputo

@MarcACaputo

Marc Caputo is the Miami Herald's political writer. Hailing from Key West, he graduated from the University of Miami.

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