Dems Can't Make Up Their Minds About 'Obamacare' Label

"Obamacare" vs. "Affordable Care Act" debate is still going.

Steny Hoyer holds a press conference on an extension to the payroll tax cuts being debated in congress on Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011. (National Journal)

It's been three years since President Obama signed a hugely complicated health care law. One of these days, we'll figure out what to call it.

After rejecting "Obamacare" as pejorative in 2010, Democrats embraced the term in 2012. And now some of them are rejecting it again.

"Yeah, I wish I hadn't called it Obamacare before because that has politicized it, and has been used by Republicans as a pejorative term," House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters Tuesday after they noticed he was referring to the law only as the Affordable Care Act.

Hoyer isn't the first Democrat to reverse course on the O-word. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., corrected David Gregory during a recent Meet the Press appearance when he called the law "Obamacare," insisting that it's the Affordable Care Act.

The Democratic National Committee, on the other hand, is still highlighting a "This Is Obamacare" feature at the top of its website. And good luck un-seeing all those "I (Heart) Obamacare" bumper stickers from the 2012 campaign.

The president himself made a point of using the term during the 2012 campaign. He used it again during a speech Tuesday, although he eschewed "Obamacare" in his last public remarks about the law and his administration reportedly switched to Affordable Care Act in its talking points to surrogates.

"Obamacare" did begin as a negative label used only by Republicans. Liberal Democrats, though, pushed the White House to embrace it, arguing that the term wasn't going anywhere so Obama might as well own it. It gained widespread acceptance in large part simply because Democrats were using it all the time in off-the-cuff comments. But amid the troubled rollout of and the Democratic effort to frame health insurance as a personal issue rather than a political one, the term is falling out of favor again. "The Affordable Care Act" polls slightly better than "Obamacare," even though they are the same thing.

Hoyer told reporters Tuesday he agrees with Obama's assessment: Republicans will call it "Obamacare" unless and until people start to like it. He drew an analogy to the dramatic football game Saturday night in which Auburn University pulled off a last-second win over Alabama.

"Everyone was talking about the Alabama game--right up until Auburn won. That's your answer," he said.

Elahe Izadi contributed contributed to this article