Obamacare, the incredible shrinking campaign issue

    Back in the distant days of yore – circa 2013 – Republicans viewed Obamacare as the meatiest, juiciest issue of the ’14 campaign season, the political equivalent of a Porterhouse steak. But alas, the issue has since shrunk to a sprig of parsley.

    You rarely hear Republicans railing wildly anymore about an imminent “train wreck,” because the law they hate is doing what they feared most: It’s working.

    Obamacare is expanding health coverage to ever-growing millions of Americans, notably in red states like North Carolina, Arkansas, and Kentucky. Since March, it has exceeded enrollment projections, a landslide majority of Americans (including self-identified Republicans) tell pollsters that they’re happy with their new coverage, and most premium hikes this year are expected to be modest – foiling GOP doomsday warnings about skyrocketing rates.

    And so, having hurled themselves headlong into the wall of factual reality, Republican strategists are beating a swift retreat. It’s all detailed in the new ad-tracking stats compiled by the nonpartisan Campaign Media Analysis Group:

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    In the North Carolina Senate race, back in April, 54 percent of the GOP’s heavy-rotation ads were attacks on Obamacare – but by July, the anti-Obamacare share had been halved, to 27 percent. In the Louisiana and Arkansas Senate races, back in April, virtually all the GOP ads were hit jobs on the health reform law; but by July, only 41 percent of the Louisiana ads were anti-Obamacare, and the Arkansas percentage had plummeted to 23.

    It may be sheer coincidence, but the ad pullback in North Carolina comes at a time of rapid enrollment in North Carolina – nearly 600,000 people by early spring, which, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, is roughly 54 percent of the potential statewide market. And it may be sheer coincidence, but the ad pullback in Arkansas comes at a time of rapid enrollment in Arkansas; indeed, the rate of uninsured citizens in that state has reportedly fallen from 22.5 percent last year to 12.4 percent at the midpoint this year.

    The GOP’s ad retreat dovetails with congressional stats that document the GOP’s rhetorical retreat. According to the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation, GOP lawmakers referenced Obamacare 2,753 times in floor speeches last September. But this past June, with Congress in session for roughly the same number of days, GOP lawmakers were virtually mute. The number of references: 171.

    It’s a beautiful thing for the public, to be spared so much of their bilge.

    And they’ve been wrong about Obamacare so many times, it’s comical. They said there’d be “death panels.” Wrong. John Boehner said we’d face “Armageddon.” Wrong. They said the federal website couldn’t be fixed, that it would “collapse on itself.” Wrong. They said that few Americans would bother to sign up. Wrong. They said that few healthy young Americans, in particular, would bother to sign up. Wrong. They said that those Americans who were forced to change health plans would hate their new coverage. Wrong. They said Obamacare would train-wreck federal spending. According to the Congressional Budget Office, that’s wrong too. They said that premiums this year would go through the roof…yeah, let’s talk about that one.

    Back in June, the right-wing Daily Caller website warned in a headline that, thanks to Obamacare, Americans would face “Double-Digit Premium Hikes.” The Daily Caller cited a bid by Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield to seek an average 12.5 percent premium increase in the Connecticut market. (By the way, health insurers have sought big hikes since time immemorial.) But now we have the result. Two days ago, after Connecticuyt insurance regulators said no to that hefty hike, Anthem agreed to lower the average premium by 0.1 percent.

    How come? Because Obamacare has empowered federal and state regulators to thwart health insurers’ attempts to gouge customers. In an email, a Kaiser Family Foundation official told Talking Points Memo, “Premium increases for exchange plans have been modest in most places…But even the increases we’ve heard about generally represent proposed rates that may not be the last word, once state regulators finalize their reviews.”

    The moral of this story: Watch not what Republicans say about Obamacare (their Cassandra ‘tude has long been a crock), but what they do about Obamacare. Which is squat. Heck, they still can’t even agree on what they’d replace it with. And their decision this summer to yank most of their campaign advertising speaks volumes.


    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

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