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First Thoughts: The divided Democrats

During the shutdown, Republicans were the ones divided; now it’s the Democrats… Fixing a political problem but undermining the law… White House rips the Band-Aid off by releasing the enrollment numbers… Proof of how a functioning website will fix things: States that have a working website have relatively positive enrollment numbers… Boehner closes the door to immigration reform… And Liz Cheney’s first TV ad.

*** The divided Democrats: We said this repeatedly during the government shutdown: The political party that’s unified is typically winning, while the party that’s divided is losing. And what happened during the shutdown? The united Democrats -- who didn’t budge on major changes to President Obama’s health-care law -- won that fight, while Republicans -- who were divided on the merits of shutting down the government -- ended up as the losers. Now the situation has flipped. After a month of bad news regarding the health-care law (the federal website not working well, the cancellation notices for some who get their insurance in the private marketplace, and the low enrollment figures), it’s Democrats who are divided and Republicans who are united. And the Democratic dam is now broken. “Anxious congressional Democrats are threatening to abandon President Obama on a central element of his signature health care law, voicing increasing support for proposals that would allow Americans who are losing their health insurance coverage because of the Affordable Care Act to retain it,” the New York Times writes. The party that is splintering is the party that’s losing. And now the White House has no choice but figure out the least destructive way to allow congressional Democrats to vote on something that keeps the president’s broken promise.

President Barack Obama waves as he arrives at Miami International Airport, Friday, Nov. 8, 2013, in Miami. Alan Diaz / AP

*** Fixing a political problem but undermining the law: This is the gist of what we’ve heard from congressional Democrats: We need to be on the record -- by supporting either the Upton or Landrieu bills -- in registering our anger with how the health-care rollout has gone so far. We’ve been with the White House every step of the way, but we’re on the ballot next year, not President Obama. But here’s the problem with both the Upton and Landrieu bills: They actually undermine the law. If Americans are allowed to stay on the their often-substandard health-insurance plans, you’re not getting the young, healthy people needed to make the system work, and that could cause premiums to increase. As the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein says, “Put simply, the Landrieu bill solves one of Obamacare's political problems at the cost of worsening its most serious policy problem: Adverse selection… Solving a political problem now at the case of worsening a policy problem 10 months from now isn't a good trade. But they can't do that unless congressional Democrats are confident that the White House can make the law work.” The politics of the moment are so bad for the president, he may have no choice but to accept this Sophie’s Choice.

*** Ripping off the Band-Aid: Maybe the best way to view the Obama administration’s release of the low enrollment numbers -- 26,794 selected plans through the federal exchange, 79,391 through the state-based marketplace, and another nearly 400,000 are deemed eligible for insurance via expanded Medicaid -- is ripping off the Band-Aid. The White House is hoping that Nov. 13, 2013 was rock-bottom, and every day going forward is better. We’ll see… One of the White House’s current problems is the negative feedback loop, given all the negative news and coverage of the early rollout. That’s why fixing the website by Nov. 30 is SO critical for the White House: They need some good news to stop the negative feedback loop. The negative feedback loop is something the White House acknowledged yesterday could actually deter folks from signing up… and that’s when a political problem creates yet a new policy problem.

*** Proof how a functioning website will help things: When you look inside the enrollment numbers, however, there is one piece of good news for the administration: The states that do have functioning websites had some relatively good numbers: 35,364 in California, 16,404 in New York, 7,091 in Washington, and 5,586 in Kentucky. Compare that with the mere 2,991 who have selected a plan in Texas. It’s largely true: The states that want the law to work have a better story to tell than the states that don’t want the law to work. The White House is also taking some comfort in the fact there are a million folks in the queue -- the folks who have completed applications but haven’t picked a plan.

*** Boehner closes the door on immigration reform: Turning from health care to immigration, House Speaker John Boehner essentially closed the door on major immigration reform happening this year. “House Speaker John Boehner says he will not allow any House-passed immigration legislation to be blended with the Senate’s sweeping reform bill, further quashing the chances of comprehensive immigration reform legislation being signed into law anytime soon,” NBC’s Luke Russert and Carrie Dann reported yesterday. “‘We have no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill,’ Boehner told reporters Wednesday.” On MSNBC’s “Daily Rundown,” the No.3 Republican leader, Kevin McCarthy, reiterated the House GOP position that they will NOT go to conference with the Senate on their immigration bill. Instead, they plan to send smaller bills directly to the Senate, but they will NOT vote to go to conference, he says.

*** Liz Cheney’s first TV ad: In Wyoming’s GOP Senate primary, Liz Cheney is up with her first TV ad, and the 60-second bio spot attempts to do two things. One, it emphasizes her Wyoming roots, even though she lived for a while in Northern Virginia. “Our daughter Grace is 13, and we just can’t keep her off a horse. It’s little wonder why -- she and her four siblings are fifth-generation Wyomingites,” Cheney says in the ad. And two, it ends with Cheney saying that “it’s time for a new generation of leaders to step up to the plate.” That, of course, is a very subtle way of reminding Wyoming voters that Cheney’s primary opponent, incumbent Sen. Mike Enzi, is 69 years old. The ad comes as pro-Enzi group released a poll to Politico showing Enzi leading Cheney by a whopping 52 points, 69%-17%. But just be wary of all small-state polling, especially in a place like Wyoming. It’s a VERY difficult state to poll.

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