It’s a new year, but it’s certainly not a new Washington.
As we begin 2014, things are looking as bleak as ever — a particularly bad sign for President Obama as he begins his sixth year in office.
Here is the lay of land as I see it:
According to the latest poll numbers, the president’s approval rating is hovering around 43 percent with a 53 percent disapproval rating. This is largely in step with his numbers towards the end of 2013, barring the dip into the 30s during the initial rollout of the Affordable Care Act.
Congressional Democrats are rated unfavorably. Whereas they started 2013 riding high on Obama’s second inauguration and the promise of a successful Obamacare bill, disapproval of Democrats is over 80 percent. Republicans are in much the same boat: they are at 87 percent disapproval in a recent poll.
A Rasmussen poll in early 2013 gave Democrats a 44 percent to 38 percent advantage over Republicans on the generic ballot. In the latest CNN/ORC poll, Republicans were leading Democrats by five points on the generic ballot — an 11-point reversal over the last year. There can be little doubt that Obamacare is responsible for sinking Democrat ratings.
Democrats are on defense in the Senate. Six Republican wins will turn it, and it is my belief that they have a 50 percent change at winning at least five or six of six seats. Races to watch are the contests for retiring Sens. Tim Johnson, Jay Rockefeller, and Max Baucus seats as well as the battles for Mark Pryor, Mark Begich, and Mary Landrieu’s posts.
The volatility we are seeing in Washington, coupled with the distrust and anger Americans feel towards our elected officials, has produced the greatest crisis of trust and authority in recent history.
As I argue this in my new book, "The End Of Authority: How A Loss Of Legitimacy And Broken Trust Are Endangering Our Future," citizens no longer trust their governments to solve the enormous problems facing them. They no longer have confidence in the institutions to manage and lead effectively. At the heart of these failures is broken trust — a reality that no one in Washington appears to be capable of addressing.
All eyes will be on President Obama. He needs to show leadership on the economy and associate himself with economic growth and job creation, not just increasing the minimum wage.
It is essential that he is willing to bargain on comprehensive immigration reform and broker a deal with Republicans. House Speaker Boehner has hired Rebecca Tallent, the director of immigration policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a sign that he is serious about getting something done on immigration. It follows that the president should reach out to him and welcome this development.
Most of all, President Obama needs to work on his healthcare bill — the implementation of it, the fixes that it already needs, and those that it will continue to need as time goes on. He can’t just continue to double down on his flagging policy.
Obama needs to be prepared to make necessary changes and even delay the law if necessary, especially given the latest disaster in Oregon with 40 percent increased emergency room visits for Medicaid subscribers since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. This is precisely what policymakers were hoping to avoid by giving people health insurance.
Young people still aren’t signing up. And we aren’t sure that web information is properly encrypted or being sent to insurance companies. What’s more, we still don’t know what policies insurance companies will offer.
The bottom line is that we need Democrats to be open to making changes and fixes. And Republicans need to offer clear alternatives like tort reform, interstate purchasing and coverage of preexisting condition in their proposals. The crusade to defund ObamaCare has no place in the conversation in 2014. The law is here to stay. Now it’s up to our legislators to make it work.
The upshot of all this is that I don’t believe, sadly, that 2014 will look all that different to 2013. Americans are in a sour mood – distrustful and cynical. And we are likely to see the same type of volatility as last year.
That said, for the sake of the country, I’d certainly be happy to be wrong about all this.
Doug Wead is a presidential historian who served as a senior adviser to the Ron Paul presidential campaign. He is a New York Times best-selling author, philanthropist, and adviser to two presidents, including President George H.W. Bush. Read more reports from Doug Wead — Click Here Now.
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