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Obama Offers a Blueprint for Democrats to Defend Health Law

US President Barack Obama speaks about the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington on April 1, 2014. Hundreds of thousands of Americans rushed to buy Obama's new health insurance plans on March 31, prompting a victory lap from a White House that paid a steep political price for its greatest achievement. The scramble to sign up under Obama's health care law at the end of a six-month enrollment window caused website glitches and long lines at on-the-spot enrollment centers. AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMMNICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty ImagesNICHOLAS KAMM / AFP - Getty Images

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Obama offers a blueprint for Democrats to defend health law

President Obama’s remarks on Tuesday hailing the 7 million-plus Americans who enrolled in the health-care exchanges were more than a victory lap. They also served as his blueprint to the Democrats running for re-election -- from Mary Landrieu in Louisiana and Kay Hagan in North Carolina, to Mark Udall in Colorado and Gary Peters in Michigan -- on how to defend the law in this tough political environment for their party. The question is whether these Democrats make the same arguments and borrow the same language; many of them would prefer that health care simply fade as an issue. Here’s what Obama said:

  • The law contains many benefits that poll well individually and that even some Republicans say they support

“Because of the Affordable Care Act, 100 million Americans have gained free preventive care, like mammograms and contraceptive care, under their existing plans. Because of this law, nearly 8 million seniors have saved almost $10 billion on their medicine because we’ve closed a gaping hole in Medicare’s prescription drug plan… And because of this law, a whole lot of families won’t be driven into bankruptcy by a serious illness, because the Affordable Care Act prevents your insurer from placing dollar limits on the coverage they provide.”
  • Repealing (or replacing) the law means fewer Americans will have health insurance when Republicans have yet to offer an alternative with real legislative language
“Why are folks working so hard for people not to have health insurance? Why are they so mad about the idea of folks having health insurance?”
  • Repeal also means taking away insurance from people who like their new plans (especially after Republicans have capitalized on “If you like your plan, you can keep it”)
“Those who have based their entire political agenda on repealing it have to explain to the country why Jeanne should go back to being uninsured. They should explain why Sean and his family should go back to paying thousands and thousands of dollars more. They’ve got to explain why Marla doesn’t deserve to feel like she’s got value.”
  • Democrats represent progress in trying to fix America’s health-care system, while Republicans are defending the status quo
“Nobody remembers well those who stand in the way of America’s progress or our people. And that’s what the Affordable Care Act represents. As messy as it’s been sometimes, as contentious as it’s been sometimes, it is progress.”

Of course, it’s one thing for the president to say these things; he isn't running for re-election again. He also isn't an asset to red-state Democrats like Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, Mark Pryor in Arkansas, and Mark Begich in Alaska. And with an approval rating in the low- to mid-40s, he also isn't an asset to Mark Udall in Colorado, Gary Peters in Michigan, and Bruce Braley in Iowa. But the way to read Obama’s remarks yesterday was essentially this: “As someone who’s won two presidential elections and run two outstanding campaigns, here’s how I would defend the law if I were running again…” And this isn't really a new way to defend an entitlement program. It’s a formula defenders of Medicare and Social Security have used for years -- personalizing the idea of cuts.

*** What does the GOP do now?

The next few months for Republicans will be fascinating, because there are two different viewpoints among conservatives: 1) Let’s keep on pushing repeal, and 2) We’ve got to deal with a law that isn’t going away. Bill Kristol advocates the first viewpoint. Conservative writer Ramesh Ponnuru argues that Republicans need to accept the second viewpoint in a piece entitled, “Stop Waiting for Obamacare to Implode.” He writes about the 7 million who are now enrolled in the exchanges: “Of course, those numbers don't give us any reason to think that the law will do a lot of good at a reasonable price, or that its basic structure can be modified to pass that test. But the supporters are right that meeting the target of 7 million enrollments will make repealing and replacing the law harder.” More from Ponnuru: “The likelihood of replacement would be higher if there was an alternative that didn't take away people's insurance -- one that promised to cover roughly as many people as Obamacare does, or even more.” No doubt, Republicans can paper over their differences through November and essentially avoid dealing with this issue now. But there is this reality staring them in the face: According to the CBO, enrollment in the exchanges is expected to double by next year and quadruple by 2017 -- the earliest date we’d see a Republican in the White House when they could actually make any MAJOR changes to the law. It already seems politically hard to figure out how Republicans would sell a repeal and replace that would potentially impact 15 million folks (adding up private/Medicaid and young folks staying on parents’ policies). By 2017, the number of folks receiving health insurance under this law could be closer to 30 million. It’s why we’re convinced this law is now politically impossible to repeal.

*** Quinnipiac poll: Majority still opposes the health-care law

Still, Republicans can be comforted by this fact, at least in the short term: The health-care law remains unpopular, according to a new Quinnipiac poll. In that survey, just 41% say they support the health-care law, versus 55% who oppose it. That’s a big difference from this week’s Washington Post/ABC poll, which found support the law right-side up at 49%-48%. But to stress why wording is so important in polls, here’s how Quinnipiac worded its question: “Do you support or oppose the health care law passed by Barack Obama and Congress in 2010?” And here’s how the WaPo/ABC poll worded it: “Overall, do you support or oppose the federal law making changes to the health care system?” It’s why Democrats will talk about health care, and Republicans will insist on debating “Obamacare.”

*** On Obama’s minimum-wage trip to Michigan and on Michigan’s loss of seniority

For Obama, the topic changes from health care to the minimum wage. He heads to Ann Arbor, MI, where he’ll deliver remarks at 3:00 pm ET on raising the minimum wage, per NBC’s Kristen Welker. The Michigan venue for today’s Obama event gives us an opportunity to make this point we wanted to raise earlier: With its upcoming retirements, Michigan is losing A LOT of seniority. Per NBC’s Frank Thorp, the state is losing a total of 133 years of service (Sen. Levin 36 years, Rep. Mike Rogers 14 years, Rep. Dave Camp 24 years, John Dingell 59 years). What’s especially striking is how many of these folks are chairman or ex-chairman of powerful congressional committees. And then consider all of the other chairmen or ex-chairmen retiring (Tom Harkin, Jay Rockefeller, Henry Waxman, George Miller). This might be an unintended consequence of the waning power of committee chairs and the growing power of leadership.

*** Three keys to Bowser’s victory in D.C.

Last night in the nation’s capital, D.C. Councilmember Muriel Bowser beat incumbent Mayor Vince Gray in the city’s Democratic mayoral primary, 44% to 32% (with 80% of precincts reporting). Three things helped Bowser in her bid. First was winning the Washington Post’s endorsement. (Newspapers can still have clout, especially in a primary race and especially THIS newspaper.) Second was the guilty plea in early March that federal prosecutors got from D.C. businessman Jeffrey Thompson, alleging that Gray had detailed knowledge about an illegal fundraising scheme that helped him his 2010 campaign. And third was the fact that Boswer was able to consolidate the anti-Gray vote. Last month’s NBC4/Marist poll had it Bowser 28%, Gray 26%, Tommy Wells 11%, Jack Evans 9%, Andy Shallal 4%, and Vincent Orange 4%. The totals last night: Bowser 44%, Gray 32%, Wells 13%, Evans 5%, Shallal 3%, Orange 2%. By the way, Bowser still has to win November’s general election against independent David Catania, but Catania was more of an impediment to Gray than to Bowser. And if Bowser wins in November, D.C. would have a female mayor, a female police chief, and a female schools chief. That’s quite a story.

*** Republicans to winnow the field competing to host the GOP’s 2016 convention; DCCC Chair Israel to speak blasting Ryan budget

Two other things to put on your political radar: One, the RNC’s Site Selection Committee for its 2016 convention is holding a conference call to narrow the field of cities. And DCCC Chair Steve Israel is giving a speech at the National Press Club, where he will attack the Paul Ryan budget plan.

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