An election Democrats can win

By Bill Schneider
April 9, 2014

Obamacare versus Ryanomics. That’s the battle line for 2014. It’s also a battle Democrats can win.

Why? Because most Americans are pragmatists. Pragmatists believe that whatever works is right. Ideologues believe that if something is wrong, it can’t possibly work — even if it does work. That’s the Republican view of Obamacare: It’s wrong, so it can’t possibly work.

But it now looks like Obamacare may work. More than 7 million people signed up for health insurance by the March 31 deadline, meeting the Obama administration’s original goal. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said, “The Affordable Care Act, whether my Republican friends want to admit it or not, is working.”

Republicans admit nothing. “Even though the Democrats are trying to take some victory lap, it’s very short term,” Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) told the New York Times. “The bad news continues. The hits keep coming.”

Do they? The Affordable Care Act continues to be unpopular, though some polls show a slight uptick in public support. “House Republicans will continue to work to repeal this law,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) promised last week. (They have already voted to repeal all or parts of the law 55 times.) The Republican view is simple: It’s wrong, therefore it can’t possibly work.

It will be difficult, if not impossible, to repeal a law that gives health insurance to so many Americans. A recent Rand study estimates that 9.3 million American adults were added to the insurance rolls as of March, a figure that includes those who signed up in the new marketplace, received new employer coverage or enrolled in Medicaid. They are all being helped by Obamacare.

Still, it’s too early to conclude that the law will work. There are many challenges coming. The employer mandate goes into effect next year, and some employers may use the requirement to cover their employees’ health insurance as a pretext to reduce workers’ hours and wages.

Moreover, insurers will announce new premiums for 2015 this fall. If the risk pools do not include enough young and healthy people, premiums could skyrocket.  That would set off a backlash among those currently insured — just in time for the midterm elections.

In the public’s view, the Affordable Care Act should be mended but not ended. What people don’t want to lose are the two most popular provisions of the act — requiring insurers to cover people with pre-existing conditions and allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ policies until age 26.

Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Budget Committee, said those provisions would be too expensive to include in any Republican replacement measure.

The least popular component is the individual mandate requiring every American to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty. If you do away with the mandate, however, the entire plan falls apart. So mending the law won’t be easy.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Democrats had a stroke of luck.  On April 1, Ryan came out with a 10-year budget plan involving massive cuts in popular federal programs like Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, education, student loans and environmental protection. Ryan’s proposal would eventually change Medicare — the most popular of all federal programs — from an insurance policy to a “premium support” program, where seniors would be given subsidies to purchase private insurance. GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney proposed doing that in 2012. Look where it got him

“Thank you, thank you, Congressman Paul Ryan for reminding us what Republicans would do if they had control,” Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) remarked. Representative Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the House Democratic whip, called it “a bad April Fool’s joke.”

Ryan’s proposal, which includes repeal of Obamacare, is a severe austerity plan aimed at achieving a balanced budget by 2024. There is no evidence that most Americans are willing to make the kinds of sacrifices necessary to get a balanced budget. Nor is Ryanomics likely to be signed into law.

What it does is give Democrats something to run against. “The choice is stark,” Reid said, as he stood on the Senate steps flanked by more than 30 Democratic senators. “The American people are watching.”

Democrats will run against Ryanomics. Republicans will run against Obamacare. Remember the rule of pragmatism: Whatever works is right.

If Americans come to believe Obamacare works, they will be reluctant to throw it out.  Especially the millions who will already have a stake in Obamacare. On the other hand, Ryan is threatening to do away with programs like Medicare that people know are working. Why? Because he and his fellow Republicans think those programs are wrong. Attacking programs that work is pure ideological bloodlust. And a losing battle for sure.

 

PHOTO (TOP): Representative Paul Ryan (L) and President Barack Obama. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst, Larry Downing

PHOTO (INSERT 1): People wait in line at a health insurance enrollment event in Cudahy, California, March 27, 2014. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

PHOTO (INSERT 3): Cathey Park of Cambridge, Massachusetts, shows her cast signed by President Barack Obama after he spoke about health insurance at Faneuil Hall in Boston, October 30, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

9 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

Not sure about the 2014 elections, but the 2016 POTUS race is guaranteed to go Dem, like every White House contest from now on.

Demographics will ensure it. A new people has been elected, er, selected. Well, bred, actually.

Truth be told, small government is a white thing. Sure, Sweden is as white as it gets, but only whites could turn that kind of system into something decent. Although even they are showing serious wear and tear brought on by the blessings of Third World immigration. Are those most naïve of peoples ready to admit it? Not likely.

The more non-white the population, the more government they will demand, and need. Of course, the part of the country that pays the lion’s share of the tax bill — working and middle class whites — is shrinking, so the ability to pay for all that state stuff is shrinking too.

The goodies won’t continue forever. When they stop, the “fun” will start.

Posted by Zeken | Report as abusive

@Zeken, You realize, I hope, that “white people”, as you put it, especially those in the South and the country’s elites, depend on government more than any other groups. Republicans talk “small government”, and yet, republicans are responsible for the vast majority of our national debt, starting with Reagan leaving office with the 8 largest budget deficits in the history of our country, and being cheered for it. Both Dem presidents since then, Clinton and Obama, lowered the annual deficits from what they were left with by Republican presidents.

Posted by BeBopman | Report as abusive

“Because he and his fellow Republicans think those programs are wrong. Attacking programs that work is pure ideological bloodlust. And a losing battle for sure.”

Republicans will just do what they always do: create their own facts, their own little reality to justify their ideology.

Posted by delta5297 | Report as abusive

It’s really tiresome to hear from anyone who thinks the ACA has any chance of success — it is fatally flawed in both concept and execution as the record shows for anyone willing to examine this beastly program. What’s really tragic about it is the misplaced emphasis on the real nature of healthcare outcomes weighed against our healthcare costs. 34 developed countries were surveyed by the OECD and healthcare outcomes in the US were average at best. Astonishing when our healthcare bill is astronomical compared to all others; according to OECD Health Data 2012 the cost per person in the US was $8233, which is two and one-half times the OECD average of $3268. No one is even close when our $8233 compares very unfavorably with the second most expensive national healthcare system at $5388. That’s 53% more expensive than our nearest competitor. The small analysis holds true when comparing the GDP share of healthcare spending with > 18% spent in the US compared to an OECD average of less than 10%. 33 countries range in cost from 8 to 12% of GDP while we stand alone at greater than 18%. The bottom line is that we’re getting the equivalent of $1.7 trillion in services delivered at a cost of more than $2.7 trillion. Our politicians, both parties, are helping hands in a $1 trillion consumer ripoff and here we get an article about the posturing between the two parts of a well-financed duopoly. Those 30 thousand K Street lobbyists, well-armed with carrots and sticks, could care less about party affiliation as long as it is one of their two captive audiences. Why isn’t this message being reported?

Posted by JimVan | Report as abusive

Perhaps the GOP should start doing what they say they will and stop using wedge issues to keep in power. You could then get the democrats to stop failing to solve their wedge issues too. The GOP has gained the most conservative supreme court in some time, yet it doesn’t overturn Roe v Wade. The court knows that the angry anti-abortion people are needed to be in power. For the Dems it’s womens rights issue. Both parties need failure on actual policy to maintain their grip.

On the other hand there is very little difference in the two parties on foriegn policy which is economic imperialism. We get the CIA to fake an event in some other country, we declare some deomcratic decency garbage about freedom and justice, and then we bomb the crap out of a bunch infrastructure and children, and then declare victory. The american people pay for the cost and the corporations that partner with politicians get the profit. It’s best if there is a natural resource we can now steal or some good drug that they can grow that we can sell to poor children in the US. The rebuild of the countries infrastructure, which we destroyed, is pay for by the tax payer and the contracts given to favored american corporations, again profiting on what is paid for by the tax payer.

JimVan, the ACA is working exactly as planned. The tax payer subsidizes the cost and the medical and insurance industry profits. Similar to the foriegn policy I just described. Do not forget that this is a republican plan except they needed the republican democrat to get the people to defend it. It needs reform or replacement and many know this.

Also, you ask “Why isn’t this message being reported?”. Really, you don’t know? Where do you think we are and who do you think we are? Has 35 years of republican rule made you think that they were really what they said they are?

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

Declaring ACA a “success” solely on the basis of 7M sign ups is missing the point. No one knows how many of these did not have insurance before, or how many are actually paying and covered. But even if correct, the price has been too high – countless policies needlessly canceled, turning the system upside down, untold billions lost in compliance costs, employers cutting back work hours, etc. Moreover, the “individual mandate” is all but dead – between delays and complete absence of any enforcement mechanism, something said to be an essential underpinning is missing. Even if one accepts the appropriateness of 26 year old married “children” being on their parents’ policies, the law and concept of ACA is so flawed that 95% of it, one way or another, is doomed.

Posted by SayHey | Report as abusive

Wait for the numbers to shake out. This is a new system.
Rome was not built in a day. Even if the this system as designed is not perfect (original idea from Heritage Foundation in 1994) there will be opportunities to tweak down the road.

Posted by thatsthefact | Report as abusive

Where is the evidence that any cuts are *needed*?

Where is the evidence that the government can’t ‘afford’ deficits?

Where is the evidence that the national debt is a real ‘problem’?

Where is the evidence that REDUCING SPENDING IN THE ECONOMY is good for the economy?

No such evidence exists, for any of these ideas, and there is in fact a great deal of evidence to the contrary.

Posted by imtheknife | Report as abusive

I agree imtheknife. The Republican parties policies have not only been cruel, but they have hurt the economy. This needs to be the message, and it needs to be hammered home. Unemployment insurance is good for the economy. Food stamps are good for the economy. They all lead to money in the hands of people who well then spend it supporting private businesses. The only reason to worry about deficit spending is when we have inflation. We don’t. This is a very simple message, and it is one that shouldn’t be that difficult to convey. Just show Clinton’s speech from the last Democratic convention.

Posted by RossB | Report as abusive