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Fading Negative Health Care Headlines Could Be Trouble for GOP

Image: Murillo reads a leaflet at a health insurance enrollment event in Cudahy, California

Arminda Murillo, 54, reads a leaflet at a health insurance enrollment event in Cudahy, Calif. on March 27, 2014. LUCY NICHOLSON / Reuters

What happens if the negative health care headlines go away?

It’s safe to say that Monday was the Obama White House’s best health-care day since the law passed. NBC News confirms that enrollment in the exchanges is on track to hit or surpass 7 million -- which was the original goal before the website woes of October and November. And while it very well might an outlier, a new Washington Post/ABC poll shows that support for the law, for the first time we can remember in some time, is now right-side up, with 49% supporting the law and 48% opposing it. (We’re taking the poll with a grain of salt for now until we see more numbers post-enrollment deadline, but at a minimum, it’s an important political booster shot for Democrats, even if it is just for today.) Now with the end of enrollment, Republicans face this potential challenge: What happens if the negative headlines go away? Since mid-October 2013, the GOP has been riding a wave of negative stories about the law, whether it's been the troubled website, the early low enrollment, the delays in implementing the law, and the stories about Americans negatively impacted. But consider this: The next round of potentially worrisome news for the administration -- the premium rates for 2015 -- is about five or six months from now. So what happens in the meantime? To be sure, both parties will exchange anecdotes about how the law is affecting people, and they also will exchange TV ads (just see this ad Americans for Prosperity is airing against Democrat Mark Pryor in Arkansas). But the GOP needs the daily momentum of negative headlines on health care to last until the fall to truly build a wave; what if that daily momentum on health care is gone?

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Ryan to release his latest budget -- and Democrats are ready to pounce

Republicans are incredibly confident that they will capitalize on the health-care law in November’s elections. But now Democrats believe it’s their turn to go on offense -- against the latest iteration of Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget plan, which gets released today and is likely voted on next week. Reuters: “U.S. Representative Paul Ryan on Tuesday plans to unveil a 10-year balanced budget plan that seeks to bolster Republicans' campaign credentials as the party of fiscal prudence but also leaves them open to fresh attacks over deep cuts to social programs.” We can’t report on the details of the new Ryan budget, but it’s expected to contain many of the same provisions as his past budgets -- a balanced budget within 10 years achieved in part due to cuts to safety-net programs, a fundamental restructuring of Medicare and Medicaid, and a repeal of the health-care law. The budget is definitely bold, but it’s also risky given that Democrats and Republicans have ALREADY hammered out a budget agreement. Remember, what was the worst candidate quality from our NBC/WSJ poll last month? Answer: A candidate who supports reductions in Social Security and Medicare benefits to address the budget deficit (69% of respondents said they were less likely to vote for such a candidate). This is precisely why Republicans have used the changes in the health-care law (see Medicare Advantage) to go after Democrats. And why Democrats will go after Republicans on the Ryan budget.

How will House Republicans in competitive Senate races vote?

It will be interesting to see how many House Republicans running in the most competitive Senate contests vote on the Ryan budget. Do they support Ryan to bolster their conservative credentials (especially if they’re facing GOP primaries), or do they vote against it to protect their Medicare/entitlement flank? Here are the House Republicans we’re watching on Ryan: Tom Cotton (AR), Steve Daines (MT), Cory Gardner (CO), Bill Cassidy (LA), Shelley Moore Capito (WV), Paul Broun (GA), Phil Gingrey (GA), and Jack Kingston (GA). As we've written before, the GOP is counting on a bunch of House Republicans to obtain a Senate majority, and Democrats are desperate to paint House Republicans as out of the mainstream to save these Democratic seats.

Obamacare vs. kynect

Our colleague Perry Bacon traveled to Kentucky to report on the health-care law there. And what did he find in a place that has been praised for successfully implementing it so far? Attitudes about the law are pretty much where they are everywhere else -- with Republicans wanting to roll it back and Democrats defending it. But Bacon noticed the striking difference in opinion between “Obamacare” and what the state has implemented, “kynect.” From the story: “Even Republicans here say that some Kentuckians will criticize ‘Obamacare,’ but in the next breadth emphasize how well ‘kynect’ works, as if they are not part of the same law.” So can Democrats in Kentucky somehow run on “kynect” and thus “dis-kynect” themselves from the president’s health-care plan?

Primary Day in D.C.: It’s not every day that an election -- or primary -- falls on April Fools’ Day, but this is no joke: D.C. is holding its primaries today, and the contest to watch is the Democratic mayoral race. An NBC4/Marist poll released last week shows a neck-and-neck contest, with challenger City Councilmember Muriel Bowser getting the support of 28% of likely Democratic voters and incumbent Mayor Vince Gray getting 26%. No other candidate got more than 11% in the crowded primary. This is a reversal from the same poll in February, when Gray held an eight-point lead over Bowser, 28%-20%. (The current poll also is in line with a recent Washington Post survey, which had Bowser at 30% and Gray at 27%.) The other good news for Bowser in the NBC4/Marist poll is that she’s the top second choice among Democratic likely voters, meaning she has room to grow. The good news for Gray is that his supporters are more committed and enthusiastic than Bowser’s. Polling places close at 8:00 pm ET.