Pelosi: Dems Won't Run From Obamacare in Midterms

Pelosi: Dems Won't Run From Obamacare in Midterms
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Nancy Pelosi said her Democratic colleagues should not shy from the Affordable Care Act in their 2014 midterm campaigns, arguing that Republicans "are wasting their time using that as their electoral issue."

The House minority leader’s comments came in the aftermath of a two-point special election victory for Republicans in Florida’s 13th Congressional District. Some observers believe the win forecasts difficulties ahead for Democrats, as their opponents are sure to use the unpopular health care law and the president’s poor approval rating as campaign issues.

But Pelosi insisted Thursday that that strategy would be in vain. “It’s time for Republicans to end their obsession with the Affordable Care Act,” she said. Asked whether Democrats should steer clear of the health law in congressional campaigns, she answered, “Absolutely not.”

“I’m very proud of our House Democrats and how they have not only embraced the Affordable Care Act, because they helped create it, but how proud they are of it,” she told reporters at her weekly briefing. “I think the Republicans are wasting their time using that as their electoral issue, and they will find that out.”

The White House and Pelosi attributed the loss of the Democratic nominee in Florida, well known former state financial officer Alex Sink, to poor turnout among the party’s voters in the Tampa-area swing district that Obama twice won by a slight majority but that had been held by Republicans for decades. Pelosi expressed confidence Democrats could increase turnout in November.

But the climate is a difficult one, especially since the electorate in off-year elections tends to benefit the GOP. In Florida, Sink was hit with a barrage of ads pinning her to the health care law and to Pelosi, who was considered an albatross for Democrats in the 2010 election, when Republicans gained a majority in the House. And while outside groups played a role in this campaign, Sink still outspent her opponent, lobbyist David Jolly.

Sink combated attacks by pledging to fix, not repeal, parts of the ACA. Pelosi said that approach to the issue should be a model for candidates: “She said it just right: There are many good things about the Affordable Care Act. … There are some things that need to be fixed, [so] let’s do that. And that is the message of our members.”

Democrats will also try to strike back by painting congressional Republicans as ineffectual and obstructive, pointing to the stalled extension of long-term unemployment insurance as an example. “Nothing is happening on the floor. A great deal of advocacy is happening outside the chamber and outside the Capitol,” Pelosi said. “The country is aware and active on it. … The only place where nothing is happening is here.”

House Speaker John Boehner dismissed that assessment as “noise” from the minority in an election year.

When asked Thursday about the GOP’s campaign approach to Obamacare in light of the Florida election, Boehner said jobs and the economy resonate with the electorate, and that the health care law should be approached within that context.

“As you’ve heard me say more than once, the issue is jobs. There aren’t enough jobs out there, we’re not expanding the economy, and we’re not increasing wages because of the president’s policies. Chief among those policies hurting the economy is the issue of Obamacare,” he told reporters, noting recently announced administration changes to allow some insurance policy holders to keep plans that don’t comply with the law until next year -- a move intended to help Democrats in the midterms.

“The worst is yet to come,” Boehner said, noting the House would soon vote on delaying the individual mandate tax penalty. “I think we need to stay focused on what the American people are focused on: jobs and the economy. But don’t underestimate the amount of impact Obamacare is having on the job market,” he said when asked whether Republicans risk overplaying their hand on health care in 2014. 

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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