Democrats came on strong in celebrating what they also now call “ObamaCare” during speeches at the beginning of their national convention in Charlotte, but enthusiasm waned as the week went on, with President Obama not even mentioning his signature legislative achievement during his acceptance speech on the final day.
Apparently it is no longer such a “BFD” to Vice President Joe Biden either, since he also failed to mention the law. That is shocking, considering the incredible amount of political capital the White House expended to get the remarkably misnamed “Affordable Care Act” passed and considering the high price that Democrats across the country paid in the 2010 elections for supporting it.
Dozens of other speakers praised the law at the convention, including San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro in his keynote address, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel — Obama’s former chief of staff —and first lady Michelle Obama. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said Obama is “the president who delivered the security of affordable health care to every single American after 90 years of trying.” Not true – either on universality or affordability – but he tried.
But the law remains unpopular, and party leaders were urging the president to go all in during his convention address. They wanted the president to lend his political capital to defending, repackaging, and selling the law in Charlotte to make it easier for down-ballot Democrats to face continuing hostility toward the law back home.
The president made only passing references to health care in his speech: “I refuse to …eliminate health insurance for millions of Americans who are poor, elderly, or disabled – all so those with the most can pay less…And I will never turn Medicare into a voucher,” he told the DNC. “This is the choice we now face. This is what the election comes down to…If you can’t afford health insurance, hope that you don’t get sick.”
Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) told reporters they wanted the president to talk about the benefits to come from the health law and make the case for it economically. Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, and Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado were among dozens of Democrats urging the president to warn what would be lost if the law were repealed.
No deal. The president did virtually nothing to help other candidates during the convention, and his failure to sell the law leaves them hanging.
Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius gave it a try, devoting her entire speech to the law, proclaiming that “for us Democrats, ObamaCare is a badge of honor. Because no matter who you are, what stage of life you’re in, this law is a good thing.”
Mrs. Sebelius and most of the others who spoke about ObamaCare focused on the small, early provisions in the law, such as keeping 26-year-olds on their parents’ policies, eliminating caps on medical costs, and “free” birth control and preventive services. Free birth control and unlimited access to abortion were celebrated at every opportunity.
And some speakers told their personal stories. The most moving speech was by Stacey Lihn, the mother of a toddler with congenital heart disease who said Obama’s health reforms made sure insurance paid for the expensive surgeries her daughter needs.
But turning one-sixth of our economy over to the federal government on the basis of these personal stories, however wrenching, is very dangerous indeed. We can much better help families like the Lihns and their daughter if we have a vibrant health sector that stays on the cutting edge of innovation and has the resources and capacity to care for the most vulnerable. Republicans have a different solution in which the first priority of health insurance is to provide solid coverage for major illnesses, with the security of owning their own health insurance so they don’t lose it if they move, change jobs, or face other personal changes.
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney acknowledged during weekend interviews that he understands there are things in our health sector that need fixing. “I’m not getting rid of all health care reform,” he told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“There are a number of things that I like in health care reform that I’m going to put in place. One is to make sure that those with pre-existing conditions can get coverage. Two is to assure that the marketplace allows for individuals to have policies that cover their family up to whatever age they might like.”
That is sensible. You can repeal ObamaCare and still acknowledge there are problems in our health sector that need fixing.
But ObamaCare is about much more than these small early provisions.
Romney/Ryan must hammer home what is to come from ObamaCare – the individual mandate and employer mandate, the half-trillion dollars in new taxes, the 159 new programs and agencies that will be set up so the government can wrest control over one-sixth of the economy, and the $716 billion in cuts to Medicare to create a massive new entitlement program and the IPAB rationing board – for starters.
They also can explain the broken promises: Health insurance costs are not $2,500 a year lower, as the president promised. More than 80 million people stand to lose the health insurance they have now, and at least 20 million will lose their job-based coverage as a result of ObamaCare. And the cost of the health law has soared to $2.6 trillion in the latest Congressional Budget Office estimates.
There is no doubt ObamaCare is very much on the minds of voters. A New York Times/CBS News poll taken after the Supreme Court’s decision showed that health care is a top issue for 82% of the American people, and 61% say they want Congress to repeal the individual mandate or the entire law. Only 15 percent want to keep the law as it is.
Democrats had hoped to change that in Charlotte, but they got only passing mention of health care from the president and vice president, who seem much more intent on making false claims about Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan than defending their own massive law. Dems, you are on your own. Good luck.
Posted on Forbes: Health Matters, September 10, 2012.