Republican war against Obamacare seems to be losing steam

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Senate Republicans have passed on what was to be the one of the last big battles in the war against Obamacare — confirmation of the new secretary of Health and Human Services.

In a procedural vote on Wednesday, 14 Republicans sided with Democrats, clearing a path for Sylvia Mathews Burwell for a quick, bipartisan approval.

Two practical reasons not to fight Burwell, writes Sam Bake of the National Journal: she had already won approval for a different job with a 96-0 vote, and she is well-regarded as a skillful manager.

Although Burwell’s nomination was an obvious set up for yet another battle in the ongoing war against Obamacare, Republicans chose not to. After this, there are simply few platforms left where they can launch another attack.

Burwell is not the only issue. Anti-Obamacare bills making way in the House have been weaker — they are not repealing the ACA, but are fixing obvious problems with the law, something in the past conservatives vowed they would never do.

Lately, there are fewer hearings on the ACA; and those that do occur are sparsely attended.

Observers of the past four years see the writing on the wall — Obamacare is simply not drawing the fire it once did.

“I think there’s just a fatigue amongst elected Republicans on Obamacare,” said Heritage Action communications director Dan Holler in a May interview with the National Journal. “There seems to be this hesitancy to talk about Obamacare much.”

After five years, any fire will die down, but what really took the wind out of opponents’ sails was the 8 million people who signed up for health care insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges.

Heritage Action, along with allies Sens. Mike Lee and Ted Cruz, once again tried to bring the heat over Burwell’s nomination, once it passed out of committee (albeit with bipartisan support) and moved to the Senate floor. But that attack went nowhere, resulting in simply calling for answers to questions about the ACA, Baker writes.

“Until the President agrees to offer meaningful relief to the millions of people hurt by Obamacare, we should not confirm this nominee,” Cruz said in a statement.

Even that rhetoric is very different from Cruz’s earlier bombast leading into last year’s federal government shutdown, when he goaded fellow Republicans by equating a vote to keep the government open to “a vote to fund Obamacare.”

Of course, it was not. Obamacare’s funding was not part of the bill Cruz blocked.

However, an argument can be made that a vote for Burwell, who possesses qualities making her hard to oppose on for either side, such as management skills and a desire for policy, is a vote for the Obama administration to continue implementing the Affordable Care Act.

Nevertheless, Cruz has shied away from making that case, nor putting his party in the hot seat, like with the shutdown. When asked whether the GOP should press for a broader opposition to Burwell’s nomination, Cruz responded with a clichéd line about using “every opportunity” to highlight Obamacare’s shortcomings.

Republicans still oppose Obamacare, and it will most certainly remain a problem for Democrats in the 2014 midterms.

Obamacare is unpopular with the public, with critics feeling more strongly than supporters do, but public opinion has now been solidly in place for months and is not changing anytime soon.

“Obamacare” has turned into a buzzword — or a litmus test for party identification — but it is no longer an active, hot button issue.

The war over Obamacare has been a political constant, since at least 2009, with varying intensity.  High points in the war spurred by external developments — the passage of the law passage, the Supreme Court decision upholding it, delays in employer mandates, the ungainly launch of HealthCare.gov, and the wave of cancellation notices. Few new developments are on the horizon.

Do not expect many future delays and policy flubs by Obama’s administration. Apart from any major blunders, Republicans have little opportunities to force the health care law back into the spotlight.

Republicans might get some political mileage out of 2015 premium increases as rates go into effect over the summer. Even those hikes expect to be smaller than what critics warned. Few people like 15 percent increases in premiums, but that is nowhere near the dire predictions of 300 percent jumps. A few carriers are even considering lowering prices next year.

Additional plan cancellations could also take place before the midterms, but health-policy experts say it will most likely be less than last year.

Even if the GOP can find an opening, the response by Democrats will be tough to counter — 8 million people have signed up for health-care insurance through Obamacare’s exchanges, not to mention the 3 to 6 million more that have enrolled in Medicaid, numbers that beat the White House’s own projections.

Holler accepted “there’s a lot of good news for the law,” but Republicans should continue to focus on premiums and delays by the administration.

Burwell’s nomination was not perfect, he added, but the Senate minority party has little standing left to stall nominees, especially ones with Burwell’s positive reputation.

In the end, Holler put the majority of the blame on the GOP, saying most of the dying fire against Obamacare is due to “fatigue.”

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.