By EMILY BOBROW (guest blogger)
Once again Republicans are coming together to investigate the 2012 tragedy in Benghazi, Libya. This new special congressional committee has been granted “such sums as may be necessary” to get to the bottom of what happened in 2012, when four Americans, including the ambassador, were killed. But it is hard to imagine these folks will scare up anything that hasn’t already been covered by a dozen congressional hearings, several committee reports and a notable commission, which blamed the State Department for “management deficiencies” but failed to provide evidence of foul play. As Glenn Kessler writes in the Washington Post, many of the questions being posed by this committee have already been answered, and fact-checked.
But of course it is the duty of an opposition party to run a big political investigation into the executive branch (eg, Plamegate, Monicagate), particularly with midterm elections just around the corner. And with Benghazi, Republicans get a nifty two-fer: they can simultaneously smear the Obama administration and taint Hillary Clinton’s inevitable White House bid.
So the latest fuss over Benghazi is not really that interesting. It’s wasteful, and perhaps annoying (and it may backfire), but not surprising. What is interesting is the fact that Republicans seem to be taking a break from their long-time punching bag of choice: Obamacare. Indeed, House Republicans have no scheduled votes or hearings on the Affordable Care Act. This, argues the Hill, seems to signal “a shift in the party’s strategy as the White House rides a wave of good news on the law.”
Plenty of work remains for Obamacare, as The Economist reports this week, and it would be a stretch to describe the law as popular. Yet the policy has indeed expanded access to health care, and far more Americans want to keep Obamacare than repeal it, according to a new CNN poll. Several leftist groups, such as Planned Parenthood and MoveOn.org, are now busy launching campaigns promoting what’s popular in the law (e.g., Medicaid expansion, coverage for pre-existing conditions), and Democratic politicians are discovering value in not running away from it, particularly as local versions (with notably different names) grow more popular, such as Kentucky’s Kynect. Perhaps with a bit more time, Obamacare will simply become another calcified entitlement, rather than a messy bit of big-government policy. As Joshua Green suggests at Bloomberg BusinessWeek, this could soon make it a new Medicare: something Republicans may criticize, but know never to touch without suffering dire political consequences.
But it is silly to declare Republicans are now “surrendering on Obamacare”. A fresh batch of bad numbers or an unflattering report could always revive the issue. And indeed many are now seizing on a new McKinsey report that finds that only about one in four people who enrolled in a health-insurance plan through Obamacare were previously uninsured. But parsing data makes for far less satisfying sound bites than calling a policy a failure and demanding it be repealed. This seems to make Benghazi a safer bet for stirring the Republican faithful, particularly as we need not worry about discovering anything new on the subject.
Emily Bobrow (@EmilyBobrow) is Online US Editor for The Economist.
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