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No Is Not a Policy

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal believes Republicans must devise their own plan for medical insurance.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal believes Republicans must devise their own plan for medical insurance.Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Conservative super PACs are spending huge amounts of advertising dollars battering Democratic House and Senate candidates over Obamacare — nine months in advance of the November midterm elections.

It’s all part of the strategy of groups such as Americans for Prosperity, funded by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, to gain control of the Senate for the Republican Party and to maintain the GOP’s majority in the House. A spokesman says 95 percent of the $30 million the group has spent since August has gone toward television spots criticizing the healthcare law.

Similarly, the GOP-dominated House has cast 49 votes to repeal or strip funding from Obamacare, without offering any alternatives.

But some Republicans fear a single-minded attack on the Affordable Care Act may backfire. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, current vice chair of the Republican Governors Association, says too many Republicans believe Obamacare is unpopular and when our opponent is self-destructing you stay out of his way — just make this election a referendum on that.” Jindal, who is a possible 2016 presidential contender, believes that is “a huge mistake. If we want to earn the majority, we have to be offering detailed policy solutions, detailed ideas of what we would do differently. I don’t think it is enough to say, ‘Just repeal Obamacare.’”

The public agrees. Polls show that a majority of Americans favor allowing the ACA to proceed — with corrections. A recent Kaiser poll reveals that 56 percent of respondents want Congress to keep the current law on the books; of that number, 48 percent want the law improved, while eight percent like it just as is.

Against these figures stand Republicans, who so far have failed to agree on a replacement for Obamacare to solve the nation’s insurance problems. Nor has the party coalesced around measures to improve Obamacare and fix some of its problems. This failure may explain why Americans, by a margin of 44 percent to 35 percent, trust Democrats to handle health care.

That margin is likely to rise as the numbers of enrollments in the new insurance program increases. The problem-plagued Web site is now running smoothly, and figures from January show that about 1.2 million people signed up for insurance through the exchanges and that young people are enrolling in sufficient numbers to keep premiums low.

The continuing success of the ACA means that Americans are starting to rank other issues as more important than solving the nation’s medical insurance problems. A Gallup poll released last August showed that 25 percent of respondents saw health care as the number one problem — putting it higher than any other issue. A survey done this month shows only 15 percent naming health care as the top problem, placing it fourth-highest — behind unemployment and jobs, the general economy, and disaffection with government and politicians.

The Republicans’ “fixation on repealing the ACA comes at their own peril, as the political landscape around the Affordable Care Act has shifted in Democrats’ favor,” says Kelly Ward, executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “Democrats are now on offense over the Affordable Care Act, gaining the political high ground as benefits kick in and provide the ammunition to put Republicans on their heels over the costs of repeal.”

Obamacare always has been a political oddity in that most Americans like its provisions — if asked about them individually — but don’t like the law. That’s beginning to change as its implementation becomes more successful, but the oddity also suggests that most Americans believed the nation’s healthcare system needed fixing, and they don’t trust Republicans to do the repair work because the party has no policy on medical insurance, except to say no.

As Bobby Jindal suggested, no is not much of a campaign slogan, making Republican chances in November perhaps not as bright as many believe.

No, after all, is not a policy.