WASHINGTON -- In the wake of the public uproar over the government shutdown, Democratic hopes for recapturing control of the House of Representatives next year have risen sharply. The party need to pick up 17 seats, and the main question is whether the current furor against the Republicans will remain until the midterm elections of November 2014.
The House Republicans and their tea party allies, unbowed by their failure to defund President Obama's Affordable Care Act, have signaled that they have just begun to fight. They have seized on his administration's inexplicable botching of the law's rollout to breathe new life into their efforts to kill "Obamacare."
House Speaker John Boehner, still nursing the political wounds suffered for trying to appease the get-Obama caucus in the House, told the still-faithful on Wednesday, "We've got the whole threat of Obamacare continuing to hang over our economy like a wet blanket."
Boehner may or may not be proved correct in that view. However, his observation suggests he and his caucus have no intention of getting off the track that led them over a cliff in the executive-branch shutdown, a fiasco for which the GOP gets primary blame.
Much will depend on whether the Obama administration can recover from the amateur hour of the law's initial implementation and begin to deliver health insurance to the millions of Americans without it. The president seems to have taken his head out of the clouds over the technological screw-up by calling in more experts to straighten out the mess.
Contrary to its foes' insistence that the law is Public Enemy No. 1, the uninsured public showed unexpectedly heavy interest in enrolling, or at least to exploring whether insurance offered under Obamacare would be good for them and their families. The jury is still out, much as it was on Social Security and Medicare when these programs were first enacted amid even louder laments of "socialism" and "socialized medicine."
In any event, if the administration manages to overcome the law's growing pains, the Democrats will have at least a chance to gain new political support among beneficiaries. Many of them are of income levels and ethnicities customarily inclined to vote for the party of Franklin D. Roosevelt and his breakthrough New Deal.
Meanwhile, exertions to keep the flame burning against Obamacare among the House Republicans and their self-appointed leader from the other side of the Capitol, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, could be a blessing in disguise to Democrats pointing to next year's congressional elections.
Their fund-raising arms are experiencing an usual upswing compared to the Republican cash solicitors. The Democrats will be targeting key House GOP incumbents up for re-election in admittedly strong conservative districts who have benefited from gerrymandering. At the same time, moderate Republicans in Congress are starting to band together to purge the tea party influence in their ranks.
The heavy hit on the Republican brand has been emphatically underscored by the post-shutdown polls. The question is whether voters fed up with the party's increasingly sharp turn to ultraconservatism, one not seen since the days of Barry Goldwater, will remain turned off at voting time a year from now.
By then, Obamacare may or may not be a principal catalyst for decision-making at the ballot box, pro or con, on midterm election day. The same polls also indicate that Americans still worry much more about the state of the economy and, particularly, high unemployment than about the state of federally subsidized health insurance.
But for now, the House Republicans' reply to all the criticism of their stand against Obamacare is a promise of more of the same, along with hope that the law will indeed collapse, helping them recover from the severe political damage they have inflicted upon themselves.
(Jules Witcover's latest book is Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption" (William Morrow). You can respond to this column at email@example.com.)
(c) 2013 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.
GOP fights on against Obamacare, at its peril
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