Health law’s problems yield chances for GOP

Conservative groups targeting Democrats in ads

WASHINGTON — The health care law’s seemingly endless problems are giving congressional Republicans a much-needed boost of energy, helping them to move past the government-shutdown debacle and focus on a theme for next year’s elections.

Republicans are back on offense, and more quickly than many had expected, after seeing their approval ratings plunge during last month’s partial shutdown and worrisome talk of a possible US debt default.

They pillory administration officials at Capitol Hill hearings. They cite the millions of people getting dropped by insurers despite President Obama’s promise that it would not happen. They harp on the program’s flawed enrollment process.


Now they are relishing Obama’s apology to those who are losing health insurance plans he had repeatedly said they could keep.

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‘‘If the president is truly sorry for breaking his promises to the American people, he’ll do more than just issue a halfhearted apology on TV,’’ Senate’s minority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said in a statement.

Republicans once pinned their health care criticisms largely on computer glitches in the application and enrollment process. Today, they are accusing Obama and congressional Democrats of much worse, including deceit and incompetence.

Conservative groups are pouring money into ad campaigns reminding voters that many Democrats had promised Americans they could keep their current insurance policies if they wanted. In particular, Republicans hope these efforts will help them with women, who tend to vote Democratic and often make health care decisions for their families and in-laws.

In the 2014 elections, ‘‘this is going to be a big issue, and it’s not going away,’’ said Daniel Scarpinato of the National Republican Congressional Committee. ‘‘Democrats who voted for Obamacare,’’ he said, ‘‘are pretty desperately running around with their hair on fire, trying to distance themselves, which they’re not going to be able to do.’’


The White House says canceled policies can be replaced with better coverage, sometimes at lower prices. What the administration does not emphasize is that better coverage often costs more.

Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for the GOP’s top Senate campaign group, acknowledged that Republicans took a hit last month when an angry public blamed them for the 16-day partial government shutdown. But now, he said, ‘‘there’s a spring in the step’’ of party activists.

Potential congressional candidates ‘‘who might have been 50-50 about running for office might be a little more inclined’’ to plunge in, he said. Best of all, Dayspring said, the most vulnerable Democratic lawmakers have echoed Obama’s now-disproved promises about insurance cancellations and ‘‘most of them are on film doing it.’’

The conservative group American Crossroads already is using such film clips against Senators Mark Begich of Alaska, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, and Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Democrats who are up for reelection next year. The group is paying to place the videos on Facebook and other sites.

Begich, Landrieu, and Hagan were among the 16 Democratic senators who met with Obama on Wednesday, a day after two gubernatorial elections highlighted the party’s struggles with the health care issue. Half of New Jersey voters and 53 percent of Virginia voters said they oppose the health law. The two Democratic gubernatorial nominees won 11 percent and 14 percent of those voters, respectively.


Republicans also are making the Obamacare-hurts-women argument in New Hampshire, where Senator Jeanne Shaheen will seek reelection next year. Shaheen, a Democrat, calls the claims absurd. The Republican Party’s basic position on health care, Shaheen said, ‘‘opposes contraceptives for women and is unwilling to provide access to abortion even in cases of rape and incest.’’

Now, she said, Republicans want people to believe ‘‘that the great new preventive coverage that women are going to get under the new health care law is somehow not going to be good for women and families.’’

‘‘It’s like being called ugly by a frog,’’ Shaheen said.