Bob Franken: Health-care politics - not so fast

Just to be clear, I may have been wrong. Of course, that’s nothing new for a political commentator, although usually we don’t have to admit we were mistaken. In fact, I may get in trouble with my governing professional body for even suggesting that I might have blown it. Happily, we don’t have one — but perhaps it would be a good idea, something like the Organization of Pundits-Engaged in Debating Silliness (OP-EDS).

Right now, you probably are asking yourself, “What in heaven’s name is he talking about?” Good question. And I’ll tell you: I’m talking about health care. I have been among the herd-followers who have argued that Obamacare might do in the Democrats’ chances in this year’s elections for control of the Senate, with Republicans wasting no chance whatsoever to tarnish their opponents with the Affordable Care Act. Now, however, I’m beginning to waver (another privilege that goes with this job). There are some indications that the GOP and its mega-rich supporters may be overplaying their one-card hand.

No, this vacillation is not prompted by the news that the administration’s Affordable Care Act participation projections have been exceeded, with 8 million sign-ups tallied so far, including a respectable chunk of those high-value low-age enrollees. Nor is it influenced at all by President Barack Obama’s declaration that, “This thing might be working.” What is he going to say: That this thing, which by the way is his signature achievement, is doomed?

Thank you for sharing, Mr. President, but your opinion is not affecting mine. Instead, there are some glimmers out there that might shed some new light on appropriate strategies for this year’s campaigning.

The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll shows that one-third of the online respondents say they favor the Democrats’ approach to health care, versus 18 percent who prefer the Republicans’. That’s an increase for the White House and a down figure for the GOP. Of course, 40 percent of those participating had no earthly idea which party had which plan, which is a bummer, but it shows a slight upward trend for the Dems. In February, Obamacare approval was at 25 percent. If that momentum continues, it could mean that people are starting to get weary of the Republicans’ incessant hammering on the subject.

In the House, they’ve passed more than 50 bills that would repeal or sabotage health-care reform, and maybe it’s time to cool their jets. Couple that with the barrage of TV ads already flooding us from well-financed conservative groups trashing Democrats for having anything to do with Obamacare, and maybe, just maybe, a growing number of voters are wondering whether the GOP will stop long enough to reveal a credible alternative. Don’t hold your breath.

Added to the mix is the reality that some of the reforms are widely popular. So the president and his people are trying to shore up some enthusiasm for playing offense instead of defense. Their argument is that while true, the rollout was a well-documented disaster, the repairs have been made and the new health system is starting to gain traction.

That may be premature, but it’s food for thought for candidates in his party who were abandoning what they perceived to be Obama’s sinking ship. Instead of saying, “Health-care plan? What health-care plan?” they suddenly might recall, “Oh yeah, that health-care plan.”

As for the Republicans, there is no shortage of controversies, so they can have plenty of other issues with which to scorch the midterm election earth between now and November.

Now I have contended that both health care means the Democrats are in deep trouble and also that perhaps they’re not. It’s ideal: Whatever the outcome, I’ll be correct and can brag about it. Or wrong, of course. But we won’t talk about that.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.


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