Coming up next: a political Battle of Armageddon over repealing Obamacare. The Republicans are attempting to take the majority in the Senate. The Democrats ambitiously wish to take the majority in the House. All hangs on about two dozen races. Winning these races is not the main thing. It’s the only thing.
The main battleground in the fight to break the prevailing political stalemate will be the fight to repeal what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell calls the “monstrosity” of Obamacare. Upon something like a plebiscite on Obamacare, and with it control of Congress, entirely depends on the fortunes of both political parties…and, perhaps, the literal health of America.
Memo to this columnist’s fellow Tea Partiers: let’s throw McConnell, our strategist, a ticker tape parade! The Obamacare fight is not a cynical exercise. It is a life and death issue. Voters care deeply. From the Republican base the Tea Party populist faction, small government conservatives, and libertarians all passionately oppose Obamacare. From the Democratic base, progressives consider Obamacare a triumph of historic proportions, and it reportedly is popular among the Democratic-leaning ethnic base.
Meanwhile, the all-important Independents who control the political balance of power are…queasy. The old system was in trouble. But is Obamacare taking America out of the frying pan and into the fire?
The frying pan was (and is) very real. Republicans are culpable for failing to provide intelligent free-market-based solutions (which certainly exist). The United States spends the most in the industrialized world on health care. And has some of the very worst health care, and health. According to a 2011 article by Reuters,
The U.S. healthcare system is more effective at delivering high costs than quality care, according to a new study…
The study, released on Wednesday by the 34-nation Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD, said Americans pay … far more than any other OECD country — but still die earlier than their peers in the industrialized world.
The cost of healthcare in the United States is 62 percent higher than that in Switzerland, which has a similar per capita income and also relies substantially on private health insurance.
Meanwhile, Americans receive comparatively little actual care, despite sky-high prices driven by expensive tests and procedures. They also spend more tax money on healthcare than most other countries, the study showed.
Enter Obamacare — which now has landed as the issue on which national politics almost is sure to hinge in the upcoming political cycle. If indeed Obamacare degrades health care (and makes it more expensive and an even bigger hassle) it will prove more of a political liability than an asset. What does the political battlefield look like?
As ace political analysts, Larry Sabato and Kyle Kondik observed on March 18th in the Wall Street Journal:
[T]he Obama White House wants to achieve something no other president has ever done: Retake full control of Congress in a midterm.
The party of an incumbent president traditionally loses seats in midterm elections. The usual strategy is simply to minimize the damage. Yet Mr. Obama and many Democrats are so buoyed by national polls and the buzz from the November election that they sense a chance to make history by holding their 10-seat Senate majority … and picking up the needed 17 House seats. That would clear the way for Democratic legislative aims.
A few factors work in the Democrats’ favor.
A grand sweep will be harder than Democrats think, though. Electoral history and the nature of the 2014 races indicate that Democrats actually stand a greater chance of losing the Senate than they do of winning the House.
Since the start of the modern two-party system in the mid-19th century, the party of an incumbent president has never captured control of the House from the other party in a midterm election.
On March 27th the National Journal’s Chris Frates reveals in "The Secret Republican Plan to Repeal ‘Obamacare’: And why the fight is far from over" the GOP strategy to bring about its resurgence as “King of the Hill,” holding the House and taking a Senate majority: repealing Obamacare.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — a political grandmaster, sometimes underestimated — reported that the Senate GOP was prepared, if they had won the majority, to “take this [Obamacare] monstrosity down.” The Democratic majority, bolstered by the typical presidential year turnout surge, held solid in 2012.
“Monstrosity” is not an unfair description. Frates:
During the legislative debate over the law, Democrats promised Obamacare would create jobs, lower health care costs, and allow people to keep their current plans if they chose to. Those vows, Republicans argue, are already being broken.
The Congressional Budget Office, the Hill’s nonpartisan scorekeeper, estimated that the health care law would reduce employment by about 800,000 workers and result in about 7 million people losing their employer-sponsored health care over a decade. The CBO also estimated that Obamacare during that period would raise health care spending by roughly $580 billion.
A takedown of Obama’s signature legislative achievement is not GOP partisanship, pettiness or obstructionism (although the left-leaning media will portray it that way). Crushing 800,000 jobs and forcing 7 million people out of their health insurance is a bitter fruit indeed. Obamacare was designed sloppily at best. For those almost million people whom it will cause to lose gainful employment, or the 7 million who will lose their employer-provided health insurance, indeed it is monstrous. FDR would have been appalled.
What are the political implications?
Republicans will need to win half a dozen seats to retake the chamber. So, what are the chances?
“There are six really good opportunities in really red states: West Virginia, North Carolina, Louisiana, Arkansas, South Dakota, and Alaska,” McConnell said last week. “And some other places where you have open seats like Michigan and Iowa. And other states that frequently vote Republican, an example of that would be New Hampshire. So, we’re hopeful.”
What are the policy implications?
Two decades ago, this columnist, browsing in a Washington bookshop, happened upon the greatest supply side columnist who ever lived, Warren Brookes. Brookes shared an indelible insight. He observed that it was possible to provide good health care at an affordable cost through the free market, rationing it by price. And it was possible to provide good health care at an affordable cost by the government through state agencies, rationing it by thoughtful policy. And that America had managed to create a monstrous hybrid of the two, the worst possible system: lousy care at unaffordable prices.
The Obamacare “monstrosity” is the apotheosis of what Brookes noted. Americans deserve better.
The National Journal concludes the most politically salient column of 2013 to date by saying that “McConnell [is] a brilliant defensive coordinator who will have to play flawless offense if he hopes to take control of the Senate next year.” Yes, he does. Likely, he will.
The chickens of Obamacare are coming home to roost. There are some mighty ugly chickens in the flock. Given the uglier side of Obamacare now becoming visible, the historical trends, and McConnell’s strategic political savvy President Obama should be bracing himself to receive the political shellacking of a lifetime come November 2014.