Four years after its passage, the debate over the Affordable Care Act is far from over. The controversial measure was signed into law on March 23, 2010, but President Obama and Democrats this week illustrated that the law is still a tough sell, especially during a midterm election year.
Mr. Obama on Thursday gave Democrats a blueprint for explaining the law on the campaign trail while tying it to other Democratic campaign themes, such as expanding women's economic opportunities.
"Before we passed Obamacare, it was routine for insurance companies to charge women significantly more than men for health insurance -- it's just like the dry cleaners," Mr. Obama said at a Florida event focused on women's economic issues. "You send in a blouse, I send in a shirt -- they charge you twice as much. But the same thing was happening in health insurance. And so we've banned that policy for everybody."
That's the sort of message Democrats will take to their constituents this weekend, as they celebrate the law's anniversary and urge people to sign up before open enrollment on the new Obamacare marketplaces closes on March 31. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., for instance, is holding an event Saturday with nonprofit groups, where certified "navigators" will be on hand to help people through the enrollment process.
Yet even for the law's most stalwart supporters, avoiding debate over Obamacare's more controversial elements can be a challenge.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Thursday hailed the law's benefits, noting among other things that at least around 5 million people have signed up for insurance on the new marketplaces. "Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, millions of Americans are enjoying newfound health security and the personal and economic freedom that comes with it," she said. Asked whether Obama is a "winner or a loser politically," Pelosi said, "I believe that it's a winner."
Still, presented with the evidence that the law may be a political liability for some Democrats, Pelosi acknowledged the ACA isn't perfect.
"Any bill that's passed is not perfect," she said. I wanted single payer. I wanted public option. So, you know, I had some changes I would make myself, but as the implementation takes place, as we see improvements that can be made to any compromise -- which the bill was -- will do that. But just because people say, 'I don't want to repeal it but I do want to fix it,' doesn't mean they're walking away from it."
If anything, Pelosi's remarks illustrated that the complexity of the law and its many different parts will make it hard to defend. Matt Gorman, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee (the House Republicans' campaign arm) said in a statement, "Even Pelosi--the architect of ObamaCare--can't explain the benefits of a law that is growing more unpopular by the day."
By the same token, the law's complexity may make it difficult for Republicans to aggressively campaign against the law. When potential Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown attended an event last week at the home of Herb Richardson, a Republican New Hampshire state representative, he railed against the law, calling it a "monstrosity." Richardson, however, said the law had been a "financial lifesaver" for him and his wife.
Trying to capitalize on the GOP's staunch opposition to the law, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) launched an online board game called "Sick n' Broke: The Games Republicans Play with Your Health."
February fundraising: The DCCC announced this week that it raised $6.4 million last month, outraising its GOP counterpart (the NRCC) by $1.3 million in its best-ever February. DCCC Executive Director Kelly Ward explained the success this way: "Take your pick: whether it's opposing equal pay for women, giving insurance companies free rein over health care or blocking bipartisan reforms to our broken immigration system, House Republicans are earning their record low 13 percent approval rating."
Similarly, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee raised $6.8 million last month, outraising the NRSC by $1.3 million and posting its best February numbers ever.
The Republican National Committee (RNC) had a good month, raising $7.1 million in February for a total of $95.6 million over the entire the 2014 election cycle.
Gay Republican candidate scolds GOP: While the DCCC's Ward would be expected to have a list of reasons to oppose the Republican Party, one of the GOP's own offered up one more criticism of the party this week. Former Massachusetts state senator Richard Tisei, an openly-gay Republican challenging Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.), lamented to voters, "We'll never be a 21st Century party if our platform is stuck in the 19th Century." Tisei urged his party to embrace gay rights or risk becoming obsolete.
Progressives pick a candidate in Hawaii: While gay rights is a sticky issue within the GOP, some Democrats see a dividing lines in their party over issues like Social Security and climate change. Those were two key issues that led the Progressive Change Campaign Committee to endorse Sen. Brian Schatz over his primary challenger, Rep. Colleen Hanabusa. When it announced the endorsement, the PCCC noted in an email that "Brian Schatz was one of the first senators to endorse expanding Social Security benefits. His primary opponent refuses to rule out cuts."
Key Arizona endorsement: Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., this week gave a surprise endorsement of Democrat Ruben Gallego, who is running in the Democratic primary in Arizona's 7th district. The endorsement will be a significant advantage for Gallego in a crowded field of Democrats -- some with strong name recognition -- running to replace the retiring Rep. Ed Pastor. Grijalva will help give Gallego an edge with fundraisers in the district, as well as with Hispanic voters -- Pastor and Grijalva are the state's two Hispanic congressmen.