Most political experts agree the botched rollout of the healthcare.gov website is bad news for Democrats.
Just how bad is a matter for intense debate.
“A lot of people sacrificed a lot for this bill, and in the end, the rollout, which is really a procedural matter, went so poorly that it is a bit frustrating,” said former U.S. Rep. Zack Space, an Ohio Democrat whose initial support for the Affordable Care Act may have doomed his chances for re-election in 2010.
Space ended up voting against the final bill, though he supported the original version when it passed the House. He doesn’t regret the votes, saying he made the best decision he could with the information he had at the time. And there were other votes too that may have cost him his job in what he describes as a “wave year.”
But three years after Space voted against a bill championed by his party, other Democrats may contemplate a similar decision: Do they abandon the law in hopes of protecting themselves politically?
It didn’t work for Space, and may not work for other Democrats next year. Some experts aren’t even convinced that Obamacare will be the dominant issue in 2014.
“Remember, four months ago Syria was going to be the key issue in 2014, then it was the shutdown now it’s Obamacare,” said Larry Sabato, a political science professor at the University of Virginia. “I have no idea what will dominate the fall and neither does anybody else.”
Republicans are hoping that the website problems of today cause political problems for Democrats down the road. But that may depend on whether people are able to get insurance through the exchanges and what they have to pay.
“Right now, it’s just a broken website and a broken promise,” said Republican political strategist Barry Bennett, a former aide to now-Sen. Rob Portman. “Soon it’s going to be, ‘oh my goodness, my health insurance doubled in price.’ Then it’s going to be very personal.”
Still, Bennett predicts the health law will have a negligible effect in Ohio, where neither senator is up for re-election next year and most congressional districts are already held by Republicans. Nor will it have much of an impact in Ohio’s gubernatorial race, he said.
“But when you get to Illinois and Florida, that’s where it really starts to hit,” he said, saying the issue is already having an impact on the North Carolina Senate race where Sen. Kay Hagan, a Democrat, is seeking re-election, and the open Michigan Senate race.
Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Genoa Twp. in suburban Columbus, said furor over implementation may only grow worse: Next fall, he pointed out, the one-year delay of the employer mandate will expire. While only a small percentage of Americans are currently seeing the impact of the new law, Tiberi said, in October 2014 hundreds of thousands of Americans may see their employers alter their health insurance, just weeks before Election Day.
Democrats, meanwhile, are hopeful that the glitches will subside, and with it, America’s focus on the troubled rollout of the law.
Former U.S. Rep. Dennis Eckart, a Democrat, said the health care law will be “an element” in the outcome of 2014, and could even hurt Republicans.
“If it appears to be working a year from now, the people who opposed it are going to have to answer for the fact that it ended up working,” he said. “If it’s not working, the people who supported it will have to explain why they supported it.”
Eckart doubts the law will have an impact in the governor’s race in Ohio, where Republican Gov. John Kasich will likely face Democrat Ed FitzGerald. Kasich has garnered national attention for his move to expand Medicaid, a key tenet of the Affordable Care Act.
“Folks tend to ascribe to the governor the whole question about jobs and the economy as a higher priority,” Eckart said.
Democrat political strategist and former Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Jim Ruvolo said the economy will likely be the deciding factor on who wins and who loses in 2014. The other issues, he said, may or may not have an effect. “It’s way too early,” he said.
Space said neither side has helped themselves; Republicans, he said, will field the blame for the October shutdown of the government, while Democrats have to answer to the struggles of the health law.
“I think it’s just so difficult to predict what’s going to happen next month, let alone next year,” he said. “Things change, they always do, and in this day and age they change very quickly.”