The News: House Republicans passed a bill that actually improves the Affordable Care Act.
Departing from their usual approach to President Barack Obama’s health care law, lawmakers bypassed floor debate and approved a change that expands coverage choices for employees of small businesses.
The change eliminates caps on deductibles for small-group policies. Business organizations lobbied lawmakers for the added flexibility to help employers offer plans that comply with the law.
The Take: Wait, what? Didn’t the Republicans just take their 52nd vote to defund or repeal Obamacare? Aren’t they running on a message of repeal in the November elections?
Republicans still hate Obamacare, but they love business owners. They say they simply responded to the need of a core constituency. But the politics of Obamacare are never simple.
It was all done last week on the down low. The Republicans purposely hid the fix in an unrelated bill protecting reimbursements to doctors who treat Medicare patients. In an unusual maneuver, the legislation passed on a voice vote without debate. Since when do Republicans forgo the chance to attack Obamacare on the House floor?
The Republican leadership didn’t utter a peep. They couldn’t risk upsetting their base or crowing from Democrats (not much chance of it, since they remain weak-kneed on the law. See post below). So they used sleight of hand while publicly trying to discredit the enrollment goal reached and, of course, taking another useless vote to repeal.
Why did the Republicans patch a law that they have vowed to gut? Because, as the Associated Press explained, “No matter how hard the party tries, the earliest the law can be repealed is after Obama leaves office.” So until then they might as well help businesses come into compliance. But that may yet be wishful thinking if Hillary Clinton or another Democrat wins the presidency.
If the law continues to expand and improve coverage and slow the growth of health care costs by 2017, killing it could be merely a notion. “Repeal,” conservative Ross Douthat wrote in the New York Times on Sunday, “may really be a dead letter.”
The News: Now that the troubled rollout is in the rear view and sign-ups under the Affordable Care Act surprisingly exceeded the goal of 7 million, rising public support for the law is lifting Democrats’ hopes of retaining control of the Senate.
If they hold serve, President Obama would have a chance to put off lame-duck status and notch a final legislative victory or two.
The Take: Sure, polls show opinions about Obamacare have pulled to 50-50 for and against for the first time, with support for repeal plummeting. Some Republicans, such as Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, seem to be sensing a shift in the wind. And OK, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has raised far more money than the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee this year.
But here are four reasons Obamacare still isn’t enough to help the Democrats in November:
1. Obamacare is still too toxic in purple districts and heavily contested races. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said the Democrats won’t aggressively campaign on it and instead will “pivot” to talking about the economy. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri plans to speak at a Democratic fundraiser in Arizona, where he said he will try not to mention Obamacare at all.
2. The big scrilla is being raised by Republican-affiliated political action committees. Super PACs, which are independent and can raise and spend unlimited sums, are the behemoths in politics. Based on the last two election cycles, roughly 57 percent of their money could go to helping Republican candidates. Republicans so far have received 62 percent of the money collected by all the leadership PACs, which politicians used to raise money for one another.
3. The Democrats have more real estate to defend, which compounds their fundraising disadvantage. They are trying to hold 21 of the 36 contested Senate seats this year. About half of the seats are in red or purple states where Obama and his health care law are most unpopular. To keep control of the chamber, Democrats can lose no more than five seats. The best handicappers expect the Republicans to win at least four and as many as eight seats.
4. Too many core Democratic voters, particularly blacks, stay home for midterm elections, which is why Obama recently groaned that Democrats get "clobbered." The DSCC plans to spend $60 million to turn out the base, but history isn’t on the party’s side. Compared with the electorate for presidential elections, the electorate for midterms is usually much smaller, older, whiter, more male and conservative—the perfect recipe for Republican victories. The Democrats took back both chambers of Congress in 2006, but their gains came from independents and benefited from deep dissatisfaction with President George W. Bush. Nothing else gets people to the polls like outrage, and the Democrats aren’t selling that this year.
The News: The U.S. Army has issued new appearance regulations that some black female soldiers say discriminate against their hairstyles.
More than 13,000 people have signed a petition asking Obama to order the Army to reconsider the rules, which ban large braids and cornrows, dreadlocks and most twists. Most women with longer hair could be affected by a new rule allowing no more than two braids, but criticism is strongest for rules prohibiting coiffures worn mostly by African Americans with natural hairstyles.
The new regulations (pdf) are “racially biased,” National Guard Sgt. Jasmine Jacobs said in her WhiteHouse.gov petition. “Females with natural hair take strides to style their natural hair in a professional manner when necessary; however, changes to AR 670-1 offer little to no options for females with natural hair.”
The petition must receive 100,000 signatures by April 19 to prompt a response from the commander in chief.
The Take: When an employer emphasizes the need for a “professional” appearance, as did the Army in this instance, black women with natural hair rightfully cringe.
Before its recent removal, the umbrella ban alone was enough to severely limit hair options for black military women. And the adverse conditions that come with serving in the armed forces already challenge those without wash-and-go hair.
When the Army used images of black women to illustrate newly “unauthorized” hairstyles, many sisters had had enough. How could they not feel unfairly targeted?
“There are varying degrees of what looks professional. As long as I can get my hat or helmet on, and when you look at me you should be able to say, ‘She’s in uniform and she looks really good,’” recently retired Army Lt. Col. Beverly Rouse told The Root.
Women represent nearly 15 percent of active-duty personnel, with blacks making up about a third of all women in uniform. Rouse, a West Point graduate, served nearly 30 years, including as an intelligence officer during the Iraq War. Before she deployed for Iraq, she said, she cut off her shoulder-length hair because it was her best option. Really, her only option.
“They are pushing it right now, especially when they are saying they want to be more culturally sound,” Rouse said. “But you don’t accept the black culture?”
Corey Dade, an award-winning journalist based in Washington, D.C., writes The Take and is a contributing editor at The Root. He appears on MSNBC and CNN and contributes to NPR. He is a former NPR correspondent and political reporter at the Wall Street Journal. Give him your “take” on Twitter.
Corey Dade, an award-winning journalist based in Washington, D.C., is a former national correspondent at NPR and political reporter at the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe and other news organizations. Follow him on Twitter.