Both parties observe a dubious anniversary
Obamacare rollout haunts Democrats more than shutdown hurt GOP
Democrats and Republicans each celebrated dubious anniversaries on Wednesday: For the GOP, it was a year from the day they orchestrated a government shutdown over Obamacare.
For Democrats, it was the beginning of the health law’s rocky rollout, which sent President Obama’s poll numbers tumbling.
One year later, it is Obamacare’s rollout that appears to have the more politically poisonous legacy, denting Mr. Obama and making him toxic heading into mid-term congressional elections.
“There’s a reason why the law remains unpopular — and that’s because it’s not working like the president promised it would,” said Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican, in a statement touting the year anniversary of the law taking full effect with the launch of the exchanges.
But last year, on Oct. 1, nobody could have guessed that would be the case.
House Republicans had just set the federal government on the path to a shutdown, having refused, at Sen. Ted Cruz’s insistence, to pass a spending bill that funded Obamacare along with the rest of the government.
The shutdown lasted 16 days, leaving hundreds of thousands of federal employees at home and shutting down national parks and other government services across the country. Democrats said it sucked $24 billion of economic activity out of the economy.
“It’s just stunning the frivolity with which the Republicans treat the economy,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Wednesday.
Even some Republicans were wary of tying the annual spending bills to Obamacare, arguing that it was a distraction from their anti-Obamacare message at a time when the botched rollout was giving them plenty of ammunition.
And indeed, soon after the shutdown ended, attention turned to the health care rollout, with a federal website that kicked users off, and some state websites that never got working properly.
On Oct. 24, a week after the shutdown, the president’s job approval rating stood at 45.1 percent, versus 50.5 percent disapproval, for a gap of 5.4 percent, according to the RealClearPolitics.com average of polls. By December, his approval had dropped 5 percentage points, and his gap was 15.5 points. It has remained in double-digit negative territory since.
Democratic strategist Karl Frisch said at this point, those voting on either Obamacare’s rollout or the government shutdown are already firmly in the camp of Republicans or Democrats.
“For most campaigns, this will be a base motivation election which is why you hear Democrats talking about the shutdown and GOP extremism and Republicans talking about Obamacare so much,” he said. “Both parties have made the calculus that, by-and-large, attempting to persuade the few remaining undecided voters out there just isn’t a cost effective proposition. Turning out the base is cheaper, easier, and far more reliable.”
But GOP pollster Michael McKenna said there’s little doubt Republicans have benefited more from the Obamacare rollout than Democrats have from the shutdown, which he said “affected approximately nobody” — even government employees furloughed were fully paid for their time.
He said the proof that the health care rollout is more important to politics today — and that it’s a problem for Democrats —is the fact that there are so many Republicans running ads against their opponents attacking them for voting for the law. Meanwhile, there are no Democrats running ads against the GOP for opposing it.
“No one will be penalized for voting against it,” Mr. McKenna said.