With the 2014 midterms fast approaching and the 2016 elections looming in the not-so-distant future, many Americans are preparing themselves for a tidal wave of TV ads and political conflict as Democrats and Republicans battle over the nation’s “big issues.” Without a doubt, the debate over healthcare policy in America will be a fiery one. As early as January 2014 Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), has begun supporting ad campaigns designed to slam Obama and the Democrats for “promising” that Americans could keep their original health plan when, in reality, that claim has proven to have very little truth behind it. These attacks, funded in large part by conservative donor groups, have left Democratic candidates little chance to respond without using funds they might need later in the campaign. These ads could easily prove effective in the upcoming midterm elections, but in 2016 Republicans will likely need a different message. No Democratic presidential candidate can stand idle on the problems of the ACA (Affordable Care Act) and no Republican candidate can simply blast the law in its entirety and call for repeal. To win the presidency, both parties will need to reposition, regroup, and plan to reform the ACA as it stands.
While there is evidence that the ACA has indeed helped millions of Americans, it is not enough for the Democrats to call the law a success. Even if we put the healthcare.gov fiasco aside, the law has proven rather underwhelming. A majority of Americans (59%) feel that the law has not impacted them, while nearly a quarter (24%) say it has hurt them. A mere 14% feel helped by the ACA, certainly not enough to outweigh those who feel it has had a negative impact. What is especially worrisome for Democrats is that among independents the numbers look extremely similar, with 26% saying the law has hurt them and 57% saying it has had no impact. With so many voters feeling unsatisfied or unaffected, the Democrats have a lot of questions to answer for the midterms and are likely to stick with the President in supporting the law. In the future, however, President Obama will probably find himself under the bus while candidates reposition themselves away from his “promise,” propose reform, and raise defenses against conservative attack ads.
So can the law be chalked up as a failure? Not quite. Only about four in ten Americans believe the law is a failure, while just under half (49%) believe it is too soon to tell. 51% of Americans believe the problems facing the ACA will be solved, suggesting hope for the current law to become more effective. Solving those issues can come through outright repeal or reform, and there has been much talk about coming up with an alternative to the ACA. However, both parties need to recognize that only 18% of Americans want to repeal and replace the law and 20% want to repeal and revert to the old system. 49% of Americans want to make changes to the existing law rather than repeal it at all. Furthermore, only 42% of Republicans favor repeal and replace while 53% supports fixing current law. Yet even with leading conservatives calling on congress to initiate reform, including President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Tim Donohue, Tea Party politics could pressure Republicans to advocate repeal. Even though it is possible that Donohue and other conservative leaders may actually favor repeal, it is becoming more and more clear that it will not be a winning option come 2016. To regroup, the Republican Party will need to quell internal bickering and set itself on a firm path towards reform.
Neither party can stand still on the ACA. While the Republicans may be able to blitz congressional Democrats with attack ads during the midterms, they will have to create a plan for reform that satisfies the Tea Party base, the establishment, and the general public. Democratic candidates could find it hard to distance themselves from Obama and the ACA itself, but they have to openly recognize the law’s faults if they are to address it properly and winningly.
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