By Grace-Marie Turner
Democratic officials and candidates, understandably worried about ObamaCare’s impact on their electoral fate, are getting a boatload of free advice from strategists in their party. Candidates may want to take this advice precisely for what it is costing them.
Former Al Gore strategist Carter Eskew says: “Democrats need to launch a full-throated defense of the Affordable Care Act and cast its opponents as having no plan to address the nation’s health-care needs…Democrats are lashed to the President’s mast on healthcare; to save themselves, they have to save the new law.”
Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum also urges Democrats to stand up and fight. “There’s no running from Obamacare. There just isn’t. If they want to win, they’d better emerge from their fetal crouch and start fighting back. Nobody likes candidates who won’t stand up and defend their own party’s achievements.”
Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson offers this guidance: “The Democratic Party has long taken the position that no one should have to declare bankruptcy because of illness, that no one should have to choose between paying for medicine and paying the mortgage. If Democrats can’t proclaim these beliefs with pride, why on earth are they running?”
The problem is that people are facing six-figure medical bills because of ObamaCare, such as Nevada resident Larry Basich who is battling heart disease and $407,000 in medical bills he incurred after spending months trying to enroll and paying premiums for ObamaCare insurance. And then there are others, such as Edie Sundby, who have lost access to doctors and hospitals in the midst of cancer treatment.
Former presidential campaign advisor Bob Shrum tells candidates facing the hurricane-force headwinds of ObamaCare to “emphasize the popular provisions” of the law. Then, in his Daily Beast column, he tells candidates to “[p]ound away at a Republican candidate” on their specific failings.
Shrum says it would be wrong for Democrats to double-down on the progressive dream of a single-payer system, wrong for them to run against the health overhaul law, and wrong to promise to mend it, as failed candidate Alex Sink did – weakly – in the Florida 13 special election. “Sink didn’t lose because of Obamacare,” he argues, but because of a demographic disadvantage and low turnout.
“Democrats have to stop allowing Republicans to define the election as an up or down vote on an abstraction called Obamacare,” Shrum writes.
An abstraction?! What is abstract about 2,800 pages of legislation and at least 25,000 pages of regulations? What’s abstract about nearly six million people losing the health coverage they liked and being forced into the ObamaCare exchanges where health insurance is more expensive, deductibles are sky-high, and networks are limited to a short list of doctors and hospitals? And what is abstract about citizens potentially paying thousands of dollars in fines for not complying with the law’s individual mandate?
So here is Shrum’s concrete advice to Democrats: “Pound away at a Republican candidate for proposing, and a Republican House incumbent for voting 51 times, to permit insurance companies to deny coverage for pre- existing conditions.”
Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson echoes his advice: “House Republicans have already staged 50 meaningless votes to repeal all or part of the Affordable Care Act, knowing that none of the measures had a prayer of making it through the Senate. Even if the GOP were to control both chambers, Obama would veto any repeal bill that reached his desk.”
Wrong. The Republican House has voted to repeal ObamaCare in each Congress, but the rest of the votes have been on specific provisions, including giving legal authority to the president to do what he is doing illegally through regulation and blog posts (such as allowing people to keep their plans, delaying the employer mandate, etc.)
In fact, 15 changes to ObamaCare have passed both houses of Congress and have been signed into law by President Obama, including 10 of the 51 passed by the Republican-led House. Here is the full list.
Shrum also says Democrats should “Assail Republicans for opposing a ban on lifetime limits, so policies can’t be canceled when patients are sickest and need them most.”
This won’t work, either. Replace bills proposed by Republicans in both the House and the Senate would also lift lifetime limits on plans.
Shrum tries again: “And go after Republicans for favoring or voting for a bill to deprive children up to the age of 26 of the chance to stay on their parents’ health insurance policy.” Won’t work. Republicans would give people that option in their legislation.
Robinson advises Democrats to change the subject: “Republicans, if they could, would slash Social Security benefits and turn Medicare into a voucher program. They, not Democrats, are the ones who threaten the safety net for seniors. Republicans refuse to invest in our decaying infrastructure. They want to do away with government regulation that has given us cleaner air, healthier food, safer workplaces.”
Then Shrum says, “Obamacare’s numbers are getting better and better – in both public opinion and enrollments.” That is a stretch, to put it mildly.
According to a recent CNN poll: “39% of Americans say they support the health care law, up from 35% in December, a record low in CNN polling. The uptick of four percentage points is within the survey’s sampling error. Fifty-seven percent of those questioned say they oppose the measure, down five points from December.”
And this is good news? ObamaCare is underwater with the American people by 18%! But, hey, it was worse!
The White House says that 5 million people have signed up for coverage on either the federal or state exchanges. But officials refuse to say how many of them have actually paid and are therefore enrolled. And it appears that only one million of those who have “signed up” were previously uninsured. This does not even begin to make a serious dent in the nearly 50 million people who the president promised to help and for whom we are turning our health sector into turmoil.
Instead of repeating this nonsense, Democrats will have to answer the factual challenges that will be leveled against candidates who either voted for or support the law. One example: A new TV ad by Crossroads GPS running in New Hampshire against Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D), who is being challenged by former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown (R). She voted for the law. People in New Hampshire have lost their health insurance as a result. She promised them they would be able to keep their plans.
Answering these concrete facts is going to be a much taller order for Democrats!
Posted on Forbes: The Apothecary March 20, 2014