WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama asked for a national debate on health care, and he got his wish. The problem for the Democrats, and consequently for the president, is the national debate is still going on.
Republicans surely take comfort in polls that show continuing public skepticism if not hostility toward the health care law. Overall, Americans disapprove of the 2010 act by a 54-to-43 margin, a range that in the Gallup poll has remained generally consistent since last fall.
But the Democrats have their talking points on Obamacare ready. They are saying, though not everybody is believing, that in this fall's midterm congressional elections they can run on Obamacare, not run away from it. Here's the argument, provided in an interview last week with Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the party chair:
"Are Republicans really going to ask 8 million people to give back their insurance and to take their kids under 26 off their health care and to deny affordable coverage to people with pre-existing conditions? They're obsessed with opposing the president, even if opposing the president hurts the middle class."
The importance of health care in November depends in some measure on the magnitude of two issues -- the level of the law's applicability and the level of the law's opposition.
The Gallup survey shows two-thirds of Americans believe they are unaffected by the health care law, and the division between those who believe the law has hurt them (18 percent) and those who believe it has helped them (15 percent) is tiny.
Though the Obama administration has highlighted the 8 million people who have signed up, the newly insured constitute only 4 percent of the country and, given established voter participation patterns, represent an even smaller part of the voters in a midterm election.
All this raises a vital strategic question for the Republicans: Might it actually be better for the GOP to fall just short of a Senate majority in November than to win a majority in the chamber?
The answer may be yes. If they inch up against the Democrats but don't actually seize Senate control, they'll have little hope of overturning the Obama plan or, given the president's certain veto of any repeal legislation, substantially weakening or defunding it. They will force Democratic senators who supported the legislation to squirm as they affirm their 2010 vote and leave the health care plan in place as a pinata: something they can bludgeon to their advantage in the 2016 primaries and the presidential general election.
The Republicans can win by losing. And the Democrats can lose by winning. It's a cynical outlook, to be sure. But it is perfectly suited to an age of cynicism.
David M. Shribman is executive editor of the Post-Gazette (email@example.com).