(Bill Schneider is professor of public and international
affairs at George Mason University and a resident scholar at
Third Way. The opinions expressed are his own.)
By Bill Schneider
April 24 "I know every American isn't going to
agree with this law," President Barack Obama said about the
Affordable Care Act at his April 17 news briefing, "but I think
we can agree that it's well past time to move on."
The Republican response? Same as General Anthony McAuliffe's
reply when the German army demanded that U.S. forces surrender
at the Battle of the Bulge during World War Two: "Nuts!"
To be precise, after Obama said we can agree to move on, the
National Republican Congressional Committee tweeted, "No, we
With 8 million people signed up for Obamacare - and perhaps
as many as 14 million covered by the law - repealing Obamacare
looks like a lost cause. "This thing is working," the president
The fact that Obamacare is working should shut down the
debate. But that's not happening. Why not? Six reasons.
1. Conservatives will never agree that it's working - no
matter what the evidence shows. They're ideologues. Ideologues
believe that if something is wrong, it can't possibly work. Even
if it does work.
Remember when President George W. Bush announced a "surge"
of U.S. troops in Iraq? That was in January 2007, right after
voters repudiated the Iraq war in the 2006 midterm. Democrats
were enraged. Bush was giving voters the finger.
But the 20,000 additional U.S. troops helped suppress the
stunning spiral of violence in Iraq. Republicans insisted that
the surge worked. Did that get antiwar Democrats to come around
and support the war in Iraq? Not hardly. To them, the war was
wrong. So the surge couldn't possibly work. Of course it was
temporary. But it lasted long enough for the U.S. to get out of
Iraq. When U.S. troops left, the situation deteriorated. During
Chuck Hagel's Senate confirmation hearings for secretary of
defense, Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) went crazy trying to
force Hagel to admit that the surge worked. The surge suppressed
the violence, but it had absolutely no effect on U.S. opposition
to the war.
2. Obamacare is supposed to be an entitlement program, like
Social Security and Medicare. They're universal programs:
Everyone who pays into the system is entitled to benefit. You
get Social Security and Medicare benefits whether or not you
actually need the money. We bribe the middle class to support
entitlements. That's why they're so expensive. And so popular.
A social welfare program targets benefits by need. Only
people who can show they actually need the benefit get it. Under
Obamacare, some people who have to purchase health insurance
can't afford it. They have to be subsidized. Those subsidies are
being paid for with new taxes and higher premiums on people who
can afford it. That's a transfer of wealth.
Programs targeted by need have always been controversial.
How can we be sure people don't take advantage of the system?
That the benefits only go to the "truly needy"? A lot of better
off people don't like the idea of paying subsidies to those who
don't think health insurance is important or who don't take care
of themselves. "It is viewed more as a social welfare program
than a social insurance program," longtime Obama adviser David
Axelrod told the New York Times.
3. Throughout all the years of the healthcare debate - under
both President Bill Clinton and Obama - one fact remained
indisputable: a solid majority of Americans were satisfied with
their healthcare and their health insurance. Seventy-one percent
were satisfied with both in a 2009 CNN poll.
Obama promised several times in 2009, "If you like your
healthcare plan, you'll be able to keep your healthcare plan,
period." It was politically devastating when the Affordable Care
Act went into effect last year and people started losing their
insurance plans because they didn't meet Obamacare standards.
They believe the president lied to them.
True, only a small number of people with individual policies
were affected by the cancellations. But as Representative David
Price (D-N.C.) put it, "There was an ability to exploit the
unknown, to exploit the fear of people losing something that
they have. That wasn't true with Social Security and Medicare."
People's biggest concern about Obamacare has always been
that it will take what they already have and like and make it
4. New insurance premiums for 2015 will be announced this
fall - just in time for the midterm election. They will include
new premiums for employers, who have to comply with the law
starting next year.
Last week, the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint
Committee on Taxation announced that insurance premiums under
Obamacare are expected rise by less than 3 percent in 2015 - a
smaller increase than expected. If that turns out not to be
true, there could be a huge political backlash.
5. The groups that are benefiting most from Obamacare are
not the groups most likely to vote in a midterm election. They
include young people, poor people, minorities and single and
working women. One thing that could get them out to vote is a
serious Republican threat to end Obamacare. But that can't
happen as long as Obama is in the White House. Saving Obamacare
will be a better issue for Democrats in 2016, when a new
president will be elected, than in 2014. Especially if
Republicans control both the House and Senate in 2016.
6. Republicans see the 2014 midterm as a national referendum
on Obamacare. Obama urged Democrats to "forcefully defend and be
proud of" the new law. But do Democrats really want to
nationalize this year's midterm election? Some Democratic
strategists say yes, because that may bring out more Democrats
who usually don't vote in midterms.
But the key question this year is which party will control
the Senate. The Washington Post lists 11 competitive Senate
races. Nine of those races are in states carried by Republican
presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012.
Bringing out a presidential-level turnout in those states
may not do Democrats any good.