2014 all about Obamacare, even if government shuts down, key Republican says

The 2014 midterm elections will act as a referendum on Obamacare, regardless of what happens in the next budget showdown in January, says Rep. Greg Walden, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor
Rep. Greg Walden, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, speaks with reporters Friday, Nov. 15, 2013, at a Monitor-hosted breakfast in Washington, DC.

The 2014 midterm elections next November will be about the failures of Obamacare, even if there’s another round of budget brinkmanship in January that could shut down the government again.

That’s the word from Rep. Greg Walden (R) of Oregon, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), the GOP’s House campaign arm.

“I think 2014 is going to be a referendum on the failures of this administration and its notion and philosophy that big government has the answer, big government can do things better,” Representative Walden told reporters Friday at a breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor. “Americans now fully appreciate and understand that that’s not the best approach.”

Walden spoke the day after President Obama offered a fix to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that would allow health insurance companies to extend individual plans another year, following a wave of cancellations that has enraged Americans.

On Friday, House Democrats in competitive reelection races faced a tough choice: support the president or vote for a Republican bill – the Keep Your Health Plan Act – that could effectively gut the ACA. The bill, which passed Friday afternoon, has no chance of becoming law but gives Republicans a talking point as they try to drive a wedge into the Democratic caucus. 

For now, Republicans are making hay as Mr. Obama and the Democrats try to recover from the HealthCare.gov rollout fiasco and the cancellation flap. But what happens if there’s another round of budget brinkmanship in January, and potentially another government shutdown? The 16-day shutdown in October took attention away from the botched rollout of Obamacare and damaged the Republican Party’s public image.

“I think we’ll work through it,” Walden says, referring to the budget negotiations.

He acknowledges that the October shutdown “wasn’t that well received by many” Americans, although in some districts, people would probably like to see “certain specifics shut down forever.”

Still, he adds, “Obamacare affects everybody, and it continues to, and it will continue to affect them, and I think it will be the dominant issue” in the 2014 midterms.

Republicans hold 231 House seats, the Democrats have 200, and four seats are vacant. Nonpartisan prognosticators give the Democrats little chance of retaking the House, but the Republicans aren’t taking any chances. Democrats control the White House and 55 seats in the 100-seat Senate.

Walden predicts the Republicans can get a net increase in House seats next November, though he won’t put a number on it. Historically, the party that controls the White House loses congressional seats in midterm elections.

But “history doesn’t repeat itself automatically,” Walden says. “You’ve got to go earn these seats.”

He touts his committee’s efforts at recruiting women candidates and its retooled digital department, but he acknowledges that fundraising still needs work.

“We’ve tripled our monthly fundraising online,” Walden says. But “we have a long way to go.” The small-donor base, which has been a weakness, is “fired up.”

The only praise Walden offers Obama is on fundraising: “He’s darn good at raising money.”

The president has committed to doing six events for the Democratic counterpart to the NRCC – the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

“He’s kept his promise,” says Walden. “That’s one he kept.” 

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