Home | Opinion | Juan Williams

Williams: ACA data leave GOP exposed

“What a difference a day makes — 24 little hours.” Those lyrics about romance and spring flowers also fit the bill last week for congressional politics and the 2014 midterm elections.

ADVERTISEMENT
Last Tuesday, the White House hit the 7 million-plus mark for enrolling people in the insurance exchanges set up through the Affordable Care Act (ACA). It was an incredible achievement after the administration wasted two months, a third of the enrollment period, stumbling over a broken website.

Public opinion polls last week showed an immediate jump in support for the ACA. President Obama’s approval ratings, which had been at their lowest levels since he won the White House, started to climb, too.

Also on Tuesday, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) announced a budget that includes the latest of more than 50 legislative attempts by the GOP to kill the ACA. That idea remains very popular among Republicans. But for the rest of the voters in November’s elections, the proposal is just more evidence of how stubborn, extreme elements control Ryan’s party, pushing it to waste time defying the reality that the new law is here to stay.

The Ryan budget also seeks to partially privatize Medicare by introducing a voucher plan, another healthcare proposal likely to drive voters, especially seniors, to vote for Democrats.

And, if all that were not enough, Ryan’s plan cuts taxes on the rich while it raises taxes on middle-class couples with two children by close to $2,000 — yet it still does not balance the federal budget.

The day after the Ryan budget was released, Obama threw off the look of despair he has been wearing all winter. He joked at one campaign appearance that the Ryan budget amounts to trying to sell a hungry public rotten food. He called the GOP budget a “stinkburger.”

So now, the political planets have shifted allowing Democrats to go on the offensive on the ACA while Republicans defend their unappealing brand of budget cuts and right-wing social policies opposing gay marriage and abortion.

House Republican votes for the Ryan plan are tailor-made for Democratic campaign ads charging GOP candidates with being hostile to the middle class, beholden to the rich, and especially indifferent to the elderly, who vote in disproportionately large numbers in midterm elections. Cuts to Pell Grants also give young people, who lean to the Democrats, even more reason to vote.

Pew polling recently reported that, even in the depths of public disapproval of the ACA and the president, the GOP was suffering major underlying problems with voters. Democrats “hold a 20-point advantage when it comes to which party ‘is more concerned with the needs of people like me,’ ” Pew reported in January. The poll also found Americans think the GOP is more “extreme” on public policy by 54-35 percent.

Yet even with those negatives, the Republicans are in a virtual tie with Democrats on the important question of competence, as in “who can better manage the government.” Much of that is due to the flawed rollout of the healthcare program.

Republicans have also been doing well in generic preference polling on which party should control Congress and win the midterms.

However, after April 1, political strategists see those polls moving. So it should perhaps be little surprise that there is newly upbeat rhetoric coming from House Democrats.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) last week invoked the man who chose Ryan as his vice presidential running mate. “Mitt Romney said he wasn’t interested in helping the 47 percent. This budget sets out to prove that,” Van Hollen told reporters on Tuesday, immediately after seeing the Ryan budget.

The Democrats no longer have to make excuses for the ACA website. Instead, they are going right back to the effective 2012 campaign themes that won the Democrats seats in the House and the Senate.

The problem for the GOP is that its entire plan for this election cycle is based on hammering the healthcare plan and, through that, the president.

Not long ago the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Rep. Greg Walden (Ore.) proclaimed criticism of the ACA to be a winning hand. Walden warned Democrats that the law was a “category five hurricane” about to hit “the political landscape.”

Republicans want this year’s elections to be a repeat of 2010, a referendum on Obama and ObamaCare. They have no Plan B. They have no consensus around any realistic alternative to the healthcare act.

Meanwhile, Democratic messaging is picking up speed by forcing Republicans to cast votes against raising the minimum wage and blocking efforts to help the long-term unemployed.

The top political prognosticators have rightly said this looks like a bad year for Democrats on Capitol Hill. But between the early success of the ACA and the introduction of the punishing Ryan budget, the GOP had a tough 24 hours on April Fools’ Day.

Early reports of the Democrats’ demise are starting to look like hype.

Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.