Marty Wiseman: State of politics looking forward

November 1, 2013 10:06:41 AM



It seems impossible to walk away and leave the boiling cauldron of Washington politics alone. Intense negotiations intended to produce a budget by Dec. 15 and an agreement to avoid another government halting catastrophe by Jan. 15, 2014 have begun. 


There are so many contests unfolding at the moment that it is difficult to keep track of them all. What is becoming clear is that each misstep by either well-entrenched party may have long term, perhaps irreversible unintended, consequences. 


A case in point has to do with the continued desperate attempts to either stand up Obamacare or to derail it completely as the case may be. While around-the-clock efforts are underway to solve the problems with the Obamacare Website, the health care exchanges themselves are rising into action. The 16 state exchanges, by all reports, appear to be working as intended, for the most part. The federal exchanges, which have full or partial responsibility for the remaining 34 states, remain mired in the failed launch of the computer system. Republicans, as would have been expected, have marshalled their forces to take every advantage of the Obama administration's weakened condition in the roll out of the president's signature social legislation.  


At this stage there appears to be three possible directions that this effort will take. The first possibility is that Obamacare crashes under its own weight, thus making the recent government shutdown seem unnecessary. Secondly, the administration recovers from the initial near fatal glitches, and the system performs as originally hoped, thus stamping President Obama's name in history alongside other presidents who have shepherded previous landmark legislation into reality. Thirdly, if Obamacare does indeed succeed, the fact that 34 states neglected to accept the primary role in the administration of the insurance exchanges may prove pivotal. In effect, the responsibility for two-thirds of the states in the then-vital and growing national health insurance program would have been forfeited to the federal government. Thus, future decisions governing this potentially popular and increasingly entrenched program (see Medicare and Social Security) will be the responsibility of Washington rather than the states. At that point can a single-payer system be far behind? 


The immediate fate of Obamacare is only a backdrop to the strategies being plotted for the next 12 months leading up to the 2014 elections. It is already clear that President Obama and the Democrats are planning a full court press on immigration reform, and that the Democratic version will contain a "path to citizenship." With elections on the horizon the Democrats are in a win-win situation, as the saying goes, as far as immigration reform is concerned. Can the Republicans afford to dig in in opposition to immigration reform and risk losing the growing Hispanic vote for generations to come? If not, then the Democrats would have led a bi-partisan coalition to their promised immigration reform program. 


Meanwhile, the budget negotiations and debt ceiling debates are ongoing. Republican Paul Ryan, in leading the House negotiators will no doubt be renewing his efforts at entitlement reform. Even though there is fairly common understanding that the mounting financial obligations of Medicare and Social Security must be addressed, there is, as one would expect, significant disagreement about the way to solve the problem. Furthermore, the clientele of the Medicare and Social Security programs includes a healthy portion of the GOP base - conservative retirees and those about to retire. A wrong move here could prove costly in holding on to a segment of Republican true believers. In short, over the next few months the fate of the Hispanic vote and that of Americans approaching retirement age will be on the table.  


Needless to say the Democrats, punch drunk from the Obamacare assault, will be available to pour fuel on any Republican brush fire that develops. Indeed, Democratic strategists have already targeted some 35 House seats that are occupied by Republicans in districts that voted for Obama in 2012. As the cards are dealt in the coming days every hand will be played with eyes on the ballot box exactly one year from now.