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February 8, 2016

Obama Telegraphs Health Care Vulnerability; Can GOP Capitalize?

(Jonathan Ernst/REUTERS File Photo)

(Jonathan Ernst/Reuters File Photo)

Think Obamacare couldn’t possibly re-emerge as a campaign issue Republicans can use against Democrats? Think President Barack Obama isn’t concerned?

If you answered “no” to those questions, then you must have missed the president’s Tuesday news conference, when he offered a long and windy answer to a straight-forward question from NBC’s Chuck Todd about the difficulty the administration is having implementing the Affordable Care Act. The president disagreed with the premise of the question, and essentially argued that implementation of his landmark health care law has been so successful that the public doesn’t realize how much it’s helping them.

“For the 85 to 90 percent of Americans who already have health insurance, they’re already experiencing most of the benefits of the Affordable Care Act even if they don’t know it,” Obama said, as a part of an answer that ran nearly 1,200 words.

It can hardly encourage congressional Democrats that Obama’s main sales pitch is that nobody has noticed a law that is supposed to improve the access, quality and price of one of the most important services they’ll need throughout their lives. Maybe this is why Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., among the chief architects of the law, has referred to its implementation as a train wreck.

But as Dan Pfeiffer, a senior adviser to the president, aptly noted during a Twitter exchange we had after Obama’s news conference concluded, it’s hardly clear that congressional Republicans can muster a concerted strategy to capitalize on this potential dose of political good fortune.

As I reported last week, House Republican leaders are at odds with some in their conference over how to deal with Obamacare as implementation moves forward. Leadership attempted to move a bill that would gut one portion of the Affordable Care Act that the GOP deems a failure to shore up another troubled area of the statute that is among the few well-received parts of the law.

Their purpose was to highlight Obamacare’s messy implementation, while showing voters that Republicans can also be “for” something. But the bill was pulled after GOP leaders failed to round up enough votes to pass it, as many House Republicans made clear they wanted to vote on full repeal before they considered other measures.

The problem with “full repeal” votes is they’re over and done with in a matter of a couple days, and have no chance of going anywhere in the Democratic Senate, much less receive a look from Obama. To make Obamacare an issue, House Republicans are going to have to embrace a creative strategy that includes voting to repeal or adjust different parts of it.

That’s the only way they can keep the issue in the news and show voters how they would approach health care in a manner that is better than what the president is offering, which admittedly has never been accepted by the voting public and continues to receive low marks.

  • danshays

    Oh, I’ve realized the “benefits” of your law, 0bama, to the tune of a 25% increase in premiums! Thank you, sir, may I have another?

  • Andrea Bullock

    If 85 to 90 percent of Americas already have health insurance then why did we need the “affordable” care act in the first place? Is this just a gimmick to drive the price of health insurance even higher and then FORCE everyone to buy?

  • Matthew Holden

    The merits and demerits of this legislation one may leave aside. Media reporting, and serious public discussion, should take account of one basic point.
    (1) Implementation depends on action that states can take or not take. (2) A large number of Republican governors and legislatures have the ability to obstruct implementation, especially by not cooperating in the creation of “exchanges.”
    This leaves opponents, if they have the will, with ability to obstruct substantially, even they do not the votes in Congress to repeal entirely. The President states this softly, but good reporters and commentators should say it clearly. Without that, the rest of the public is necessarily confused.

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