Republicans have largely squandered an August that should have been spent preparing the American people for a showdown with Democrats over the president's health care law. Instead, efforts have largely been diverted to a damaging internecine fight between proponents and critics of the defund strategy.
Give credit to the defunders for stepping up with a strategy and filling a bizarre leadership vacuum on the issue. But their tactic of engaging in personal attacks and paid media buys against Republicans who disagree with them on strategy - but not on policy - is counterproductive. Even worse, the bitter and over-the-top attacks against the defunders by other Republicans have been even more poisonous.
The end result is that Democrats who are in cycle in 2014 - like Kay Hagan, Mary Landrieu, and Mark Pryor - have largely gotten a free pass in a month that should have been as intense as the famous August four years ago that almost prevented the law from passing.
There is still "a huge train wreck coming down," in the iconic words of the law's principal Senate author, retiring Senator Max Baucus of Montana.
We now know 106,000 people in New Jersey alone will lose their coverage under that state's most popular plan. We see more private companies, local governments, and universities slashing hours every day. The federal data hub won't even test a data security system until the day before it goes live, presenting a huge risk of fraud for everyone who enrolls in the program. States keep announcing big jumps in premiums.
The American people overwhelmingly believe it is wrong to give the biggest corporations a delay in their mandate but not provide the same to regular Americans.
Opponents of the health care law need to unite to put intense political pressure on Senate Democrats to support defunding or delaying the law's central provisions. In the House, 22 Democrats have already done so.
The specific legislative mechanism is irrelevant if no Senate Democrats feel a political need to protect their constituents from a law that is clearly not ready. Conversely, if grassroots pressure moves a block of Senate Democrats to tell Harry Reid they need to have some kind of vote, it's hard to imagine Republicans not quickly unifying behind any opportunity to limit the law's damage.
The health care law was written entirely by Democrats and passed without a single Republican vote in the Senate. When the people of Massachusetts rejected the bill in the stunning election of Scott Brown, Democrats contrived to bend the rules and force what was really no more than a draft bill into the U.S. code as is. Democrats have been in charge of implementation every step of the way, even on multiple occasions disregarding the plain text of the law when they preferred some other arrangement. (Speaking of Scott Brown, this year's version is Steve Lonegan, who could pull off his own stunning upset in New Jersey on October 16, half a month into what's expected to be a very bumpy open enrollment period under the new law. Supporting Lonegan is one of the best ways to scare Senate Democrats into stopping the health care law.)
I support defund and I also support delay. I'll support any strategy that can protect the American people from this train wreck.
There is not much time left before legislative deal-making will begin in earnest. For the sake of the American people, it's critical that opponents of the president's health care law use the limited time we have left to bring maximum pressure to bear on Senate Democrats.