- - Monday, June 9, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Running out the clock can be wise strategy on the football field, but it’s rarely smart politics. Democrats take the limberneck when they look at the latest poll numbers for November and the conventional wisdom, which is not always wrong, is that the race to control Congress is for the Republicans to lose. That’s if the landscape remains undisturbed, of course, and that’s a very big if.

With such an advantage, Republicans will find it hard to resist the urge to stand on the sidelines, avoid big plays, and watch Democratic fortunes implode. The latest CNN/ORC poll shows the public disagrees with President Obama 60 percent of the time or more on the key issues of the economy, the budget, immigration, gun control and health care.

The public clearly doesn’t like Obamacare. The president’s scheme has produced higher premiums, higher deductibles and higher co-pays. Millions have lost perfectly good coverage plans and access to their trusted doctors. The administration couldn’t even create a functional website, despite spending $1 billion to build and promote one.

It’s a fiasco that everyone readily understands, yet certain Republicans are backpedaling on the promise to repeal Obamacare “root and branch,” in the formulation of Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, in favor of a vague and timid approach of “mend it, don’t end it.” Others have suggested postponing presenting a comprehensive alternative to President Obama’s failed health-care takeover scheme until after the November midterms. This smells a lot like Mr. Obama’s infamous promise of “if you like your health care, you can keep it.”

If the Republicans retreat, failing to offer a credible health care alternative, they will rightly become merely “the party of no” and deserve what happens to them. Two Republican Senate nominees, Tom Cotton in Arkansas and Thom Tillis in North Carolina, have the right idea. They’re not backing off their call for a full repeal of Obamacare, which puts the Democratic incumbents in those states, Mark L. Pryor and Kay R. Hagan, respectively, on the defensive.

Imperiled red state Democrats such as Mr. Pryor and Mrs. Hagan can’t very well campaign to repeal Obamacare, even if they wish they could, without infuriating the considerable number of Democrats in their states. They’re stuck with “mend it, don’t end it,” which will attract nobody to the polling booth.

There are good ideas on the table for a good health care alternative. Lower costs are crucial, and a first consideration is allowing sales of health insurance policies across state lines, injecting much-needed competition into the marketplace. Competition in interstate sales of automobile and life insurance has held down the cost of those policies, and that formula is likely to work for health insurance. Health savings accounts might work, too.

Obamacare can’t be repealed until President Obama leaves office in January 2017, and even then a Republican must replace him. But Republicans must not be intimidated by Mr. Obama’s claim that “the debate over repealing this law is over. The Affordable Care Act is here to stay.” The president is whistling past the graveyard, and he knows it.

Democrats are weary of defending Obamacare. They want relief. But good quarterbacks, and their coaches, know that it’s time to press the offensive when the other team is weary and desperate for rest.

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