• With: Kim Strassel, Dan Henninger, Joe Rago, James Freeman, Mary Anastasia O'Grady

    This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," March 15, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

    PAUL GIGOT, HOST: Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot. A big win in Florida raises Republican hopes for a midterm rout. How can the GOP capitalize on the ObamaCare mess heading into November?

    Plus, President Obama flexes his executive power yet again. But will his overtime mandate really help American workers?

    And as world leaders struggle to respond to Russia's Ukraine aggression, could unleashing American energy exports be our most potent weapon?

    Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.

    A major upset in a special election Florida this week with Republican David Jolly pulling off a surprise win over Democrat Alex Sink in a congressional district President Obama carried twice. The closely watched race was seen by many as an early test of how the ObamaCare debate will play out in states across the country this year.

    So what can the GOP learn from Tuesday's win? And can it translate to even bigger gains come November?

    Let's ask Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; Washington columnist, Kim Strassel; and editorial board member, Joe Rago.

    So, Kim, I think maybe even many Republicans were surprised this year -- this week with that victory. They hadn't been expecting it. How important an issue, how central was ObamaCare to the win?

    KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST: It was the issue. The Republican in the race, David Jolly, talked about this day in and day out. Here's the important part, Paul. What he did is he talked a lot about miseries of ObamaCare, reminded voters. That seemed to get a lot of the Republican base to turn out. There was a very good turn out on the conservative side. But he also talked a lot during the race about things that need to be done to fix the immediate problems that ObamaCare was causing. And that seemed to resonate with a lot of the seniors down there and Independent voters, which helped his victory as well.

    GIGOT: So Karl Rove was also -- the former White House strategist -- also said this -- claimed this week that ObamaCare wasn't the only issue, and Republicans would make a mistake if that's all they campaigned on. What else did Jolly talk about?

    STRASSEL: Well, he also talked about -- this was important. Democrats now have a very predictable list of attack lines that they come out with. And the important thing for David Jolly was he had an answer for nearly every one of them. They did the class warfare thing. They talked about the war on women. They tried to get him on abortion and equal pay. They went after him on senior citizens, claiming he wanted to throw granny off the cliff. He had answers for all of these. And he wasn't afraid to talk about them. As a result, he blunted most of that attack. That was also very important to his victory.

    GIGOT: The other big issue, Dan, in this race was that the Democrats had laid out a "mend it, don't end it" strategy for ObamaCare. They're not going to be for repeal. They attacked Republicans for being for repeal. They said we'll fix the parts that don't work. That strategy now looks much more suspect. What do the Democrats do in response now? Where do they turn?

    DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST AND DEPUTY EDITOR: I'm not sure they return anywhere, Paul. They have --

    GIGOT: Do they stick with this?

    HENNINGER: Their strategy is "fix it, don't repeal" it.

    GIGOT: Right.

    HENNINGER: But Alex Sink didn't propose a single fix. Nor has any Democrat anywhere really proposed a serious fix, other than delaying the mandates and so forth, which isn't really a solution. I think most voters understand that something is needed beyond simply taking ObamaCare and kicking it down the road. But the Democrats you see are hostage to Barack Obama and Kathleen Sebelius. They're calling the shots. They're running the show. They're not giving them anything in the way of a real fix. So I think they're yoked to this until the end of November.

    GIGOT: Sebelius being the Health and Human Services secretary for Obama.

    HENNINGER: Yeah.

    GIGOT: Joe, you had a great scoop this week about how the administration, speaking of Kathleen Sebelius, had postponed, delayed for two more years, quietly. Didn't tell anybody about it, put in a bit of footnote, and a bit of rule making. The individual mandate, which was supposed to be central to ObamaCare and making it work, making every individual buy insurance, now this is gutted until, what, 2016?

    JOE RAGO, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: That's right. What they did was, last December, they declared that ObamaCare itself was a hardship that qualified you for an exemption from the mandate. They extended that for two more years. And the implication in this rule is that they're relaxing the enforcement of the individual mandate for a much longer time. It's very easy to qualify now for one of these waivers. You can attest that your health plan was canceled, that you find the ObamaCare health plans unaffordable for your budget. So there's just a lot more outs from this. It's a lot more porous than it was supposed to be.

    GIGOT: It seems designed to ease the pain through this election, make sure this doesn't pop up in October or September as a big issue I assume.

    RAGO: Right. And next year, people are going to find a nasty tax surprise if they're taxed for being uninsured. That's going to be very unpopular. People are not signing up in the numbers for ObamaCare that they were supposed to, so there's going to be a much larger group that would potentially be penalized by the mandate. And they're trying to build in preemptively a political response to that.

    GIGOT: Are there anything that's going to happen between now and November on ObamaCare that could flare up again and make this a big issue? I know the administration is trying to smooth that all out, push it past the election. What could pop up and be an issue?

    RAGO: A lot of health plans for small businesses and individuals are due to be canceled in October. They've tried -- with this unrelated rule making last week where they hid the other thing.

    GIGOT: Right.

    RAGO: They tried to say, well, you can get a waiver from the mandates. You can maybe extend those out. I still think we're going to see a lot of disruption in the next benefit season.

    GIGOT: OK, Kim, now, so learning lessons from this race and moving forward, how should Republicans plot a strategy that best exploits this huge issue for them, ObamaCare, going forward?

    STRASSEL: Well, they do need to talk about the problems. That is key, central. They've got to continue hammering on the issues that are hurting so many Americans.

    But I think what we saw out of Florida, too, is what they also have to do, there are discreet aspects of ObamaCare that can be fixed to a degree, that can be mitigated. And there are discrete policy agenda items Republicans could put forward to look as though they are the people who are trying to fix them. So, for instance, high prices. One thing they could be pushing in the House would be to get rid of some of the mandates in the bill.

    GIGOT: Right, that are raising costs.

    STRASSEL: Right.


    GIGOT: Maternity coverage for 50-year-olds, for example.

    STRASSEL: Exactly. Or being able to buy insurance policies across state lines. These are issues that Americans now, because they understand so much more about the health market, how it works, having lived under this terrible experience, are going to understand that there are ways to make it better. And Republicans need to be pushing those forward to look as though they've got a positive agenda as well.

    GIGOT: Republicans and strategy aren't often words you hear in the same sentence.

    HENNINGER: Yeah.

    GIGOT: They don't really get it together in the House and the Senate. Don't you think they need to hear get something together? Push a common line and actually then pass it through the House and force Senate Democrats to respond?