Fix it or else. That’s the message Democrats are communicating to the White House via publications such as The Hill. Without a health care fix, they argue, Barack Obama’s second term is basically (sad) history:
President Obama has to get healthcare working smoothly if he is to have any chance of breathing life into his second term, according to Democratic strategists and other observers.
The Democrats were speaking before the announcement of an interim deal on Iran’s nuclear program over the weekend, and they also acknowledged that Obama cannot ignore the rest of his agenda, including climate change, immigration reform and efforts to improve the economy. But, once the initial flurry of coverage over the Geneva accord subsides, it remains likely that healthcare will overshadow everything once again.
“Until this thing is working better, the conversation is naturally going to go to, ‘Is this thing working? When is it going to work?’” said Steve McMahon, a veteran of Democratic campaigns including Howard Dean’s 2004 White House bid.
Doug Thornell, another Democratic strategist, said Obama should “absolutely” push for immigration reform and his economic and job proposals, “but the priority has to be getting the Affordable Care Act headed in the right direction.”
Republicans are convinced ObamaCare’s problems have placed a millstone around the president’s second term.
“They are in quicksand, they are in ObamaCare quicksand, and there is no easy way out,” said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean, a former GOP leadership aide. “People are assigning blame and responsibility over ObamaCare to the president himself. It no longer rests on the shoulders of [Health Secretary Kathleen] Sebelius, and he is taking on a lot of water.”
Opinion polls buttress the argument. The president’s approval ratings have declined sharply. The most recent numbers from Gallup’s daily tracking poll, released Friday, indicate that the share of the population disapproving of Obama’s job performance outnumbers those approving by 15 percentage points, 54-39.
Beyond simple job approval numbers, Obama has also taken a hit in terms of the public view of his credibility and values. Two polls earlier this week told similar, discouraging stories for the president.
It’s difficult, but not impossible, for Presidents to recover from a steep decline in popularity during their second terms. Part of this is that any clout a President had about being on the political scene for 8 years is gone because no matter what they are lame ducks. But being a lame duck does not necessarily mean an immobilized lame duck.
Obama’s problem continues to be the fact that the rhetoric doesn’t match up with the promise; the top notch campaign and campaign appearances have not always been matched by top notch governing.
The health care reform act has become so closely enmeshed with Obama and his term that if it proves to be a flop, or the website continues to function in a stunningly poor way, it will permeate and color perceptions of his term in office and reduce his diminished clout even more. The latest Gallup tracking poll has Obama with 41% approcal and 52% unapproval.
And, The Politico reports, Democrats fear their party’s leaders are in denial:
Democratic leaders claim the bungled launch of Obamacare is just the latest news sensation — a media-stirred tempest that looks in the heat of the moment like it could upend the midterm election, but ends up fizzling well before voters head to the polls.
Some party strategists say they’re in denial.
And that perceived gap between party spin and facts on the ground is fueling worries that the White House and Democratic higher-ups aren’t taking the possible electoral blowback seriously enough or doing enough to shield their candidates. Democratic contenders in the toughest races are distinctly less convinced that Obamacare will fade as an election-year issue — and they can’t afford to just cross their fingers that things get ironed out or that Republicans revert to political hara-kiri.
….In a way it’s understandable that Democratic leaders like Pelosi and Wasserman Schultz would give no ground on Obamacare. They‘re loyal to the president, who regards the health care bill as his singular achievement. The 73-year-old Pelosi, who as House speaker played a starring role in getting the law through Congress, has her legacy to think about. And then there are the natural forces of politics at play: When party faithful are attacked by the enemy, they dig in.
In the day and age of the 24/7 news cycle, almost every big story in Washington is viewed through the lens of elections — whether it really has the ability to move votes or not. A hot news story that seems in the moment as though it could upend the midterm — the NSA wiretapping scandal, the IRS targeting imbroglio, the Syria bombing campaign that wasn’t, and the Obama administration “war on coal,” to name a few this year — often appears in hindsight as a quick detour on the journey to Election Day.
To many worried Democrats, however, there’s a sense that the botched Obamacare rollout might really be different.
For one, there are the all-too-fresh memories of the last midterm, when Republicans exploited anger and anxiety about the just-passed ACA to score a historic, 63-seat gain in the House. There are the poll numbers, with survey after survey showing Obama’s popularity cratering. The RealClearPolitics’ polling average since Nov. 6 shows Obama’s approval at just above 40 percent.