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Obama leans on Clinton as Obamacare implementation looms

With open enrollment just days away, President Barack Obama turned once again to his predecessor to help promote the health care overhaul that will likely be the hallmark of his time in office.

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During an informal discussion at a Clinton Global Initiative Forum in New York City, Obama and former President Bill Clinton focused mostly on the policy details of the law, with the current commander in chief warning that Republicans have tried to “scare” people into declining to get health care coverage.

“What you’ve had is an unprecedented effort that you’ve seen ramp up in the past month or so that those who have opposed the idea of universal health care in the first place -- and have fought this thing tooth and nail through Congress and through the courts -- trying to scare and discourage people from getting a good deal,” Obama said.

Acknowledging the unpopularity of some of the bill’s requirements, Obama said the Affordable Care Act’s mandates on businesses and individuals are integral to a working and fair system.

“People generally don’t like to be told you’ve to get health insurance. And employers don’t like to be told you’ve got to give your employees health insurance,” Obama said. “But as a society what we cannot do is to say you have no responsibilities whatsoever but you’ve got guaranteed coverage.”

Democrats are pushing to publicize the benefits of the new law before open enrollment begins on October 1. Some Republicans have tied a bill to keep the government running to a measure defunding the health care law’s implementation, making the possibility of a government shutdown loom.

The remarks came as a top opponent of the health care law was in the midst of a lengthy and highly-publicized speech on the Senate floor urging his colleagues to defund the health care law. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said he would speak on the floor until “until I am no longer able to stand.”

The former president - once jokingly described by Obama as “the Secretary of Explaining Stuff” -- plugged the new law earlier this month in his home state of Arkansas. But his detailed hour-long explanation of the law’s benefits was largely drowned out by the ongoing debate about military action in Syria.

The meeting of the two presidents comes as the health care law remains unpopular.

According to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 44 percent of Americans call the bill a bad idea, while 31 percent say it’s a good idea.

But proponents of the law also say that it becomes more popular as its benefits are better understood. Forty-two percent of those who say they understand the law say that it is a good idea, compared to 45 percent who say it’s a bad idea.

Obama nodded to that data, saying that “the devil you know is always better than the devil you don’t know” and that opponents of the law are merely hoping to “scare people with the prospect of change.”

The former and current heads of state were introduced by a political figure who might want the Oval Office job herself – former secretary of state and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Hillary Clinton joked in her introduction that the two men have a lot in common, including their love of golf, their left-handedness and their political skills.

“And they each married far above themselves,” she added to laughs from the crowd.