Pundits on the left and right agree: Obamacare will leave a mark on Democrats in the 2014 elections.
When the most hopey-changey of journalists, Ezra Klein of The Washington Post, writes “Change hurts, particularly in health care insurance, and it may well hurt Democrats in 2014,” you know we’re headed for a stormy political year.
Consider Sen. Mark Pryor, a Democrat from Arkansas.
Like a lot of Democrats, Pryor hitched his wagon to President Obama and Obamacare. He spent his Senate career on Harry Reid’s leash. What did he get for his obedience? An unhappy constituency and one stout opponent in 2014.
Tom Cotton, a representative from the 4th Congressional District in Arkansas — a graduate of Harvard Law School and an Army veteran with service in Iraq and Afghanistan — jumped into the race after Pryor’s approval rating dropped 18 percentage points in one year. The incumbent now sits at a vulnerable 33 percent.
And he’s not the only one. Mary Landrieu, D-La., watched her approval rating submerge thanks to Obamacare. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., who appeared to be a lock for re-election just last month, is now in a dead heat. Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., is in a similar freefall.
There are 33 U.S. Senate seats up for election in 2014 — 13 held by Republicans and 20 held by Democrats. The GOP needs a six-seat swing to take control the Senate.
Conventional political wisdom holds that it’s still a long time before these senators face the electorate. The flub of HealthCare.Gov on Oct. 1 was ugly, to be sure, but the website will get fixed. People will forget. The president says the website problems are a mere “bump in the road.”
But Democratic strategists know better. It’s a “bump in the road” on a highway to a massive reconfiguration of health care. That spells disruption, and in politics, disruption is a dangerous thing.
So far, about 5 million people in the individual market have seen their policies canceled. By late summer and early fall of 2014, an estimated 80 million more people will have their employer-based insurance yanked out from underneath them.
This won’t be a “glitch.” This will be Obamacare manifesting itself exactly as Democrats envisioned.
That means November’s election won’t be decided by campaign rhetoric. The law either creates a bunch of happy campers, or it doesn’t. And people will vote accordingly.
Here’s the scenario that scares incumbent senators the most.
— The number of uninsured in America is trimmed, but not eliminated. (Mission not accomplished. Problem not solved.)
— A minority of people find Obamacare options cheaper. Not better.
— Young, healthy, uninsured workers feel forced by the IRS into paying more than they think they should to subsidize the old and sick.
— And finally, the majority of people on employer-based insurance find themselves paying more for a lot less.
Most dangerous for Democrats is the wave of so-called “skinny” networks — a tactic to keep skyrocketing premiums as low as possible. Millions of citizens will head to the polls in 2014 confronting unexpected cancellation notices and limited provider choices that disconnect the insured from preferred doctors and quality specialized care.
Want to anger the soccer mom vote? Tell them they can’t take their kids to the best specialists available. Tell them the Mayo Clinic, the MD Anderson Center and Scripps are only for those who can afford out-of-network costs.
How do senators such as Pryor and Landrieu get out in front of that?
Talk about karma. Democratic senators who blindly voted “yes” along party lines on a bill they didn’t read, now find themselves damned if they back Obamacare and damned if they don’t.
Then senators like Pryor and Landrieu will hold one-way tickets on the political equivalent of the Edmund Fitzgerald. With apologies to Gordon Lightfoot for adapting his fine lyrics, when the skies of November turn gloomy, they will wonder where the love of the electorate goes when Obamacare turns the minutes to hours.
Sherman Frederick, former publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and member of the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame, writes a column for Stephens Media. Read his blog at www.reviewjournal.com/columns-blogs/sherman-frederick.