Democrats Are Going on Offense on Obamacare

As 2014’s campaign machinery gears up, top Democratic strategists are focusing on what Americans like about the Affordable Care Act—and the GOP’s relentless push to take it all away.

Joe Raedle/Getty

The website is working. Pre-existing conditions are covered. Costs are coming down, and young people can stay on their parents’ plans.

But will Americans ever learn to love Obamacare?

With a deadline for enrolling in insurance coverage only days away, Democrats are hoping the answer is yes, and are beginning a new offensive to tout the law’s benefits and chip away at the GOP’s apparent advantage as the 2014 campaign season begins in earnest.

Top Democratic strategists said the coming counteroffensive isn’t so much a full-on embrace of the warts-and-all Affordable Care Act rollout, but rather a reminder that Republicans’ call for repeal means the well-liked aspects of the law, such as the end of the lifetime cap on health spending and the end of pre-existing-condition discrimination, would wither as well. They plan also to tie Republicans’ continued efforts to a larger framework of obstruction, linking their unwillingness to improve the law to intransigence about budgetary issues that led to a government shutdown this year.

“They are so committed to their plan—which is repeal—that they shut down the government trying to implement their plan,” said Michael Czin, press secretary for the Democratic National Committee. He pointed out that while many are seeing benefits of the health-care law despite its frail website, Republicans like Sen. John Cornyn of Texas are facing primary challengers just for declining to keep the government shutdown over the law.

“Democrats are making to work it better. Republicans are trying to take it away.”

As part of the latest push, the White House unveiled a 51-page report detailing how the law is benefiting consumers in every state, with numbers showing how many Americans with private coverage are able to gain one free preventive-health service, or have new insurance options through Medicaid, or benefit from expanded mental-health coverage.

The party also released a memo from DNC communications director Mo Elleithee that pointed to some recent encouraging poll numbers, among them that the ACA is as popular now as it was before the botched rollout; that strong majorities do not favor repeal of the bill; and, perhaps most gratifying, that Obamacare still has higher approval ratings than congressional Republicans.

“So, are we winning right now?” Elleithee wrote. “Who knows. But what the polling tells me is that the other side most definitely is not winning right now, despite all of their bluster.”

And on Wednesday, Democrats hosted a conference call featuring David Simas, a senior White House aide charged with Obamacare messaging in order to tout the law’s benefits and show effects of repealing the law.

“It is time for Republicans in Congress to stop refighting these old political battles over health care and work with Democrats, work with the president, to make improvements as needed so that all Americans have peace of mind and security that comes from knowing that you are covered when you get sick,” said Simas.

(The press conference itself was not without glitches—it began 50 minutes late as reporters were unable to connect to the call; AT&T and the White House each said the other was responsible for technical problems.)

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Still, Joaquin Castro (D-TX) insisted that by November 2014, “the reality will overtake the propaganda machine that has been set up by the rightwing to disparage the Affordable Care Act.”

“I don’t mean to say that there haven’t been glitches and problems—that is obvious to everyone—but the real tangible benefits of this law,” he added, are “ much more powerful than the words of propaganda.”

Republicans, meanwhile, seem quite content to battle it out in 2014 over the Affordable Care Act as well. Asked about Democratic plans to run on the law in 2014, Kirsten Kukowski, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, said, “I hope they do.”

“All the polling we have seen, all the contested races we are looking at shows that Democrats are not running based on their support of Obamacare. We feel pretty good that the public knows what is wrong with this law.”

Republicans noted that opinion about the law seems to have seeped out of the political realm and into the public’s consciousness. Matt Borges, the GOP chairman of Ohio’s Republican Party, said he heard an ad on the radio this week for a car dealership in which the announcer intoned, “If you like your rate, you can keep it,” a tweak of President Obama’s now-infamous promise that people who liked their health policies would be able to keep them.

He and other Republican strategists sounded certain that problems with the law will multiply as more of it is implemented, predicting that more Americans will lose their employer-based insurance, see premiums rise, or find their health-care choices limited.

“To me, if you are trying to establish the narrative now that we are going to run on Obamacare, wait until we get to the summer and soccer moms are being told that their doctor is no longer in their network, so if your child gets sick your options are limited, and only the super rich have access to the best care and hospitals,” Borges said. “Then, it is over for Democrats. They will not be able to survive. That is the stupidest political move they could make.”

Mike Lux, a Democratic political consultant, urged progressives to not run away from the bill, but to pledge to strengthen it, pointing out that a substantial number of Americans think that it does not go far enough.

“I don’t think there is any problem with them expressing criticism of the rollout, but to try and be weak-kneed and mealy-mouthed about why they voted for the bill is a big mistake,” he said. “Voters have plenty of concerns and doubts, but what we are seeing is that voters want to see the bill implemented and they want to see the bill improved.”

Still, it is hard to find Democrats in competitive districts who are truly owning up to the law.

Asked about the national Democratic messaging push, Scott Arceneaux, executive director of the Florida Democratic Party, said, “Oh, I am not going to comment on any of that,” and promptly hung up. In Arizona, Frank Camacho, communications director of the state Democratic Party, said that candidates in competitive races were not yet embracing the health-care issue.

“Obviously, the people in competitive races are running against it. But there are other issues it seems that Arizonians are more concerned about than the Affordable Care Act.”