Obama Goes on Offense on Healthcare

The White House has been eager to fight back against Republicans, but felt it had to wait for the website to be working to do so.
Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Updated 3:04 p.m.

President Obama has been so publicly introspective and abashed of late that it's easy to forget his history as an exceedingly good campaigner. He's a politician who can make a hell of a case when he wants to—which is what he's about to start doing on behalf of the Affordable Care Act.

For weeks, the White House has been itching to fight back against Republican criticism of the president's signature achievement and what it sees as a GOP effort to harken back to an imaginary pre-Obamacare world of perfect insurance arrangements, where no one ever got dropped by a plan or excluded from coverage.

Now that Healthcare.gov, the portal for purchasing insurance in 36 state exchanges, is largely functional, the White House wants to remind people what the bad old days looked like—and what they'd have to face if Republicans succeeded in repealing the Affordable Care Act or gutting its key provisions. The best way to defend Obamacare, the thinking goes, is to remind people of the alternative.

Obama gave a base-rallying speech Tuesday at the White House in front of an enthusiastic audience to kick off a virtual advent calendar of daily healthcare-related messages touting the goodies in the ACA.

"If I've got to fight another three years to make sure this law works that's what I'll do," Obama vowed. "We're not repealing it as long as I am president. We will make it work for all Americans."

The daily messaging push will continue until December 23, the deadline for people to enroll in insurance for January coverage. The Democratic National Committee is coordinating messages with a new website, thegophealthcareplan.com, that highlights a by-now-familiar contrast between the Democrats as the party of the future and the GOP as the party of the past.

“The Republican healthcare plan for fixing the old broken healthcare system is to go back to the old broken healthcare system," said DNC spokesman Michael Czin. "They want to put insurance companies back in the drivers’ seat over consumers care while Democrats are unified behind a desire to strengthen Obamacare and expand access to affordable healthcare.”

Polling has shown the majority of Democrats and independent voters believe the ACA's problems can be fixed and do not support a repeal effort. Republicans think it's hopeless and unfixable, and just when Republican leaders start to step back from the repeal message they've hammered over and over during the past three years, voters push them to re-adopt the pro-repeal line.

But Republicans have yet to coalesce around any alternative to the Affordable Care Act the way they did around its repeal and defunding, though they continue to lay out general principles.

"When you look at Obamacare which is a government-centered health care delivery system, that's not what the American people want," House Speaker John Boehner told reporters Tuesday. "The American people want to be able to pick their own type of health insurance. They want to be able to pick their own doctor. They want to be able to pick their own hospital. That's what a patient-centered system looks like."

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Garance Franke-Ruta is a former senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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