David's Take: Reselling Obamacare

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

by David Gregory

What interested me this morning was the Politico headline about the President returning to the “bully pulpit” on health care. By claiming that the website bugs are mostly fixed, at least for the “vast majority of users,” the White House is giving itself some running room to try once again to win the health care argument.

And this is about more than winning the politics of the moment. Observers on both sides of the aisle argue the stakes are high. Obamacare’s failure would “be a big blow to modern liberalism and trust in government,” says Pete Wehner, a former adviser to President Bush. 

The president can attempt to salvage the program as a government instrument for the common good. But there are at least two problems. First, the proof of whether the Affordable Care Act will be a success comes only after standing the test of time. It is, not simply a test of whether the website can handle fifty thousand users at once.

Young people have to sign up for coverage in large enough numbers to satisfy the 7 million sign-up goal by next March and insurance companies have to reliably get information from those (of all ages) signing up – the back end fix as it has been called.

Second, there is the lag effect of waiting for good news. The problem for the president is that health care has been dogged from the start by its reputation as a tangible sign of big government run amok. Think death panels, the legacy of Hillarycare, confusion, back room deals, and ultimately the gang that couldn't shoot straight when it came to – the same gang that turned campaign 2012 into computer science. For things to turn around, for the President to have an impact, he has to completely undo the disastrous first impression of health care going live.

One Democratic operative who works with congressional Democrats insists that time heals all wounds. “It’s a good thing the election isn’t Tuesday,” he said. The operative made another point: keep your eye on the poll question about repealing health care. In our most recent NBC News – Wall Street Journal poll, 24% said the Affordable Care Act needed to be totally eliminated, and that included about HALF of all Republican respondents.

If that doesn't move higher it demonstrates that people generally view Obamacare as a step forward even though they want it fixed.

A top White House official told me over the weekend it’s now critical for them to “manage expectations” around health care. In other words, buy time and hope the results speak for themselves.