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John Patrick Grace: GOP bets the ranch on anti-Obamacare mood

Feb. 25, 2014 @ 12:00 AM

The Republican Party's game plan for keeping control of the U.S. House of Representatives and taking over control of the U.S. Senate apparently comes down to putting virtually all their eggs into the one basket of slamming the Obama healthcare reform as a dismal failure.

The West Virginia GOP has been marching along in lockstep with this single-focus strategy, as witness state Sen. Evan Jenkins' constant harping on how "Obamacare is bad for our state," in his effort to unseat long-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall in November. Jenkins last year switched his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican in order to challenge Rahall.

Opposition to the Affordable Care Act is just about the only issue that unites the two warring wings of the Republican Party -- the Establishment types, such as Speaker John Boehner, D-Ohio, and the more radical right wing, the Tea Party, led by people such as Reps. Louis Gohmert, R-Texas, Steve King, R-Iowa, and Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, who's leaving her seat in the U.S. House to vie for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Jay Rockefeller's announced retirement, has tried her best to walk a tightrope between the two warring GOP wings. She, too, thus is fully invested in playing the anti-Obamacare card.

The sizable risk the GOP is taking, however, rests on something I think looks shaky: public skepticism that the healthcare reform could actually represent a step forward, a better way, and public distrust of Obama.

For the moment opinion polls show that most Americans remain unconvinced that the ACA can improve upon what Speaker Boehner has repeatedly called "the best healthcare system in the world," namely that of the United States.

The unconscionable glitches in getting the federal healthcare reform website to work properly and accept applications for insurance, and the breaking of the president's promise that "If you like your healthcare plan, you can keep it," have massively fueled public distrust of the reform.

So did the recent announcement by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) that the ACA would likely result in the loss of 2.3 million fulltime American jobs.

The tide, however, has begun to turn.

Negative impressions of the website glitches are fading fast as the federal website is now working well and, nationally, some 3.5 million Americans have enrolled for insurance under the ACA. What's more, projections are that by March 31 the total will have reached six million, or one million shy of the administration's goal.

More and more people are coming to understand that the reason millions of Americans "lost" their healthcare policies had to do with the basic inadequacy of those policies -- that they did not cover pre-existing conditions or that they could be canceled at will by the insurance companies. Policies purchased under the ACA must all cover pre-existing conditions and cannot be canceled, except for non-payment by the subscriber.

As to the loss of 2.3 million jobs, that did not involve, as Republicans initially trumpeted, people getting fired or furloughed from their jobs but rather individuals deciding on their own that because they could acquire health insurance independent of an employer, they could afford to stop working or work fewer hours. Mostly these people were close to retirement age and had been continuing to work only for the sake of insurance benefits.

Obama's favorability rating has actually gone up slightly in recent weeks and, absent any more glitches in the ACA or any other policy missteps, may continue to rise in 2014, especially if the economy keeps improving and the jobless rate falls below its current 6.6 per cent.

Finally, look for ACA success stories to multiply rapidly and be featured in media reports. The GOP might want to fish around for another issue. That would be their best bet.

John Patrick Grace currently is a book editor and publisher in Huntington and teaches the Life Writing Class. He formerly wrote and edited for The Associated Press from Chicago, New York and Rome.

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