Analysis: Hoping legislative defeats boost turnout
WASHINGTON -- Flip sides of the same campaign-season coin, the Republican drive in Congress to repeal the nation's health care law and the Democratic call to close the pay gap for women have much in common.
Divided government assures that neither has even a remote chance of becoming law anytime soon. Instead, they figure prominently in rival strategies to maximize turnout in the fall - Democrats hoping women will vote in huge numbers, while Republicans try to stoke election year enthusiasm among tea party activists and other conservatives.
More of the same is ahead, much more.
Democrats concede the stakes are higher for their party, which is laboring to retain its Senate majority, has little or no prospect of capturing control of the House, and faces a gap in voter intensity.
Democratic voters are 7 percentage points less likely than Republicans to say they are almost certain to vote in the off-year election in November, according to a poll by the Democracy Corps and the Women's Voices Women Vote Action Fund. They propose trying to close the gap by focusing on an "economic agenda that puts working women first" and sheds any talk of recovery.
No matter the political party, the well-worn, bipartisan script in Congress rarely varies: Stage a well-publicized vote in either the Republican-controlled House or the majority-Democratic Senate. Accuse the other party of obstruction. Reassure supporters with a promise never to give up.
And all the while, accuse the other side of unbecoming behavior.
"Let's put the politics aside, and let's get to work to see how we can make sure, if there are problems with the law being implemented, that we can address that," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said recently as President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats stressed the issue of pay equity.
Republicans have voted more than 50 times to repeal or otherwise neutralize the health care law that Obama nurtured into existence, knowing that he would never accept anything of the sort.
Not that the Democrats are above the same sort of activity.
They sent the pay equity bill to the Senate floor unwilling to consider GOP-proposed changes, and knowing full well that without them, Republicans would make sure it didn't get the 60 votes needed to advance.
At the same time, Democrats were accusing Republicans of playing politics with health care.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Democrats are eager to make improvements in the law, but, "We don't have Republicans. They want this thing repealed. They don't want to fix anything that may be made better."
The prospect of relatively low turnout among unmarried women is a particular concern to Democrats.
"They made up a quarter of the electorate in 2012 and gave two-thirds of their votes to President Obama," Democracy Corps and the women's organization said in a memo. Now, "these voters are vulnerable to non-voting in off-year elections."
Turnout always declines in a midterm election from the previous presidential campaign. To try and minimize that, the groups recommended, Democrats should advance proposals to grant equal pay for equal work, push for raising the minimum wage to $10.10 and remind women that the health care law forbids charging them more than men for insurance.
There was more, including remarkably blunt advice more than five years into Obama's presidency. "Democrats should bury any mention of 'the recovery,'" a second memo said. That sort of talk misses "how much trouble people are in."
Among voters likely to vote in 2014, the generic ballot (which measures support for unnamed Republican and Democratic candidates) is tied. Republicans have the edge among those "almost certain" to vote. Among those who voted in 2012 but who are not likely to vote in 2014, Democrats hold a 16-point margin.
"This is a big deal," Democracy Corps and Women's Voices said.
Republicans looking at similar polls know that. If the pay equity bill is a model, they'll seek to blunt the entire Democratic economic agenda not by dismissing its intent, but by trying to undercut Obama's credentials and by challenging the likely impact.
Recently, in a pre-emptive move, Republicans drew attention to a report saying said that White House female employees are paid less, on average, than men who work there.
At the same time, in a symbolic moment, the party sought to counter any implication that it is uncaring about the economic fate of women. "You know, Republicans believe in equal pay for equal work," said Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb. She spoke at a weekly event in the Capitol where it is customary for only male senators to appear.
Rather than play defense, Republicans would prefer to spend their time maximizing turnout by their own supporters, critics of the health care law in particular.
"Voters who say a candidate's position on the law will be a greater factor in determining how they vote are more opposed to the law," Republican pollster Bill McInturff wrote several weeks ago. More recently, a Pew survey reported that 60 percent of voters who oppose the health care law said a candidate's stance on it will be very important to their vote. Only 48 percent of voters who support the law felt the same way.
Not surprisingly, voters who overwhelmingly oppose "Obamacare" tend to be Republicans. Pew reported that 64 percent of Republicans said a candidate's position on health care will be "very important" to their votes, and 52 percent of Democrats said the same.
Like Republicans when it comes to pay equity, Democrats work to soften the political impact by stressing the benefits of the health care law such as guaranteed coverage for pre-existing medical conditions, and highlighting changes they would like to see.
And they question the Republicans' focus.
"Don't we have anything else to do?" asked California Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman, on the 50th anti-Obamacare vote Republicans have held since 2011.
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