National Voices

Friday, Oct 25 2013 11:00 PM

DANA MILBANK: Republicans need to find themselves a new song

Republicans' efforts to amputate Obamacare, and the resulting federal government shutdown, brought the party to all-time lows in polls. So House Republican leaders surrendered, went home, took a few days to think it over, and returned to Washington saying ... the same things that got them into trouble in the first place.

Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) met with his House GOP caucus Wednesday morning for the first time since last week's collapse, then walked into the Republican National Committee's headquarters to announce his plans to the assembled press corps. From the time he uttered a cheery "Good morning, everyone," it took only 18 seconds before he announced, "We've got the whole threat of Obamacare continuing to hang over our economy like a wet blanket."

Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) went straight from "Good morning" to "The rollout of Obamacare is nothing short of a debacle."

Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) didn't even say good morning, launching right into, "It's another day and a new glitch for the Obamacare rollout."

The House Republican conference chairman, Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), informed reporters that Republicans had gone to the trouble of creating a new Web site where people can describe their troubles with the new health-care law. Her deputy, Lynn Jenkins, tried to retell a Conan O'Brien joke about Obamacare; nobody laughed. And Rep. Tim Murphy (Pa.) announced yet another committee investigation of -- you guessed it -- Obamacare.

Okay, okay, we get it: Republicans (still) don't like the health-care law. But can't they talk about anything else? "We know what happened with the effort to defund Obamacare," Jennifer Steinhauer of the New York Times pointed out. "Do you think you have a better environment to do something? And what is the specific legislative strategy at this point?"

The "biggest part," Boehner replied, will be oversight. "When it comes to Obamacare, clearly there's an awful lot that needs to be held accountable."

Great. Fresh from a shutdown and almost a default over Obamacare, House Republicans' new legislative strategy is to investigate Obamacare. Is it any wonder this Congress, and congressional Republicans in particular, is held in such low public esteem?

CNN's Deirdre Walsh, referring to the party's "beating after the shutdown in the polls," asked Boehner how concerned he was about losing his House majority.

The speaker was not at all concerned. "I think as long as we stay focused on the priorities of the American people, I think we're going to be fine," he replied.

That could be true -- except he's not staying focused on those priorities. A Gallup poll this month found that Americans think the top problem the nation is facing is its dysfunctional government (and nothing the GOP leaders said Wednesday will lessen that view). After the 33 percent who cited the government as the main problem, 31 percent said the economy and jobs. Health care was well behind, at 12 percent -- and those respondents offered a range of complaints about bad care and high costs.

Certainly, the flubbed rollout of Obamacare and HealthCare.gov gives Republicans an opening to turn more Americans against the new law, but most of the country doesn't share Republicans' singular obsession with the legislation. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll found that only 33 percent favor the law's repeal.

If there was something new in the House GOP message, it was the professed concern that people are having so much difficulty signing up for the program Republicans are intent on abolishing. "More than half a billion dollars was spent on a Web site that just doesn't work," Murphy said in announcing his Commerce subcommittee's "thoughtful and deliberate" probe of the Obamacare rollout.

"Employers are scared to death" of the law, the speaker said.

"There are so many unanswered questions that that is adding to the fear," the majority leader echoed, adding further references to "the confusion and the fear" and "Americans who are growing in their fear."

The lawmakers did not address the possibility that they are the ones causing the fear and confusion.

Their remarks, alternately demanding a delay of the health-care law and more investigations, were lacking in constructive proposals. When NBC's Luke Russert asked about one possible constructive development -- word that Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) would introduce a Republican proposal for health-care reform -- Boehner replied, "I'll let you talk to Paul about that."

Politico's Jake Sherman asked Boehner whether he agreed with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) that the attempt to defund Obamacare was ill-conceived.

"We fought the fight. We didn't win," the speaker answered. "We lived to fight another day."

Another day -- but the same old fight.

Follow Dana Milbank of The Washington Post on Twitter: @Milbank.

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