Mike Pride: Message to Democrats: Embrace Obamacare
President Obama’s State of the Union Address was a yawner, but let’s hope New Hampshire’s Democratic members of Congress didn’t nod off during his riff on Obamacare. All three of them, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Reps. Carol Shea-Porter and Annie Kuster are up for re-election in the fall, and on this issue the president gave them a model for winning.
Maybe the Republican Party will wake up one morning and realize that destroying Obamacare without offering a positive alternative is a losing proposition, but the odds are against it. Already, Americans for Prosperity, the Koch Brothers’ mega-PAC, has run a $20 million ad campaign flogging Democratic congressional candidates on Obamacare.
In December, Kuster was a target of one of these ads even though she was not in Congress when the Affordable Care Act passed. Not that she would have opposed it, but the ads are a big Republican bet that Obamacare will be a winner for the Republican Party come fall.
The best response for Kuster, Shea-Porter and Shaheen is to embrace Obamacare wholeheartedly, and the sooner the better. In Obama’s speech, he showed them the way to do it.
In case you missed it, the president began by saying that Obamacare was about fixing a broken health-care system that has caused families economic hardship for decades. He singled out a physician-assistant and single mother in the audience who signed up for Obamacare on Jan. 1 and used it to help pay for emergency surgery five days later.
“That’s what health insurance reform is all about – the peace of mind that if misfortune strikes, you don’t have to lose everything,” the president said.
Obama said that 3 million Americans under the age of 26 had gained health insurance under their parents’ plans. Nine million citizens have obtained private health insurance policies or Medicaid. He lauded the law’s provision allowing people with pre-existing conditions – asthma, cancer – to be insured. He pointed out that women could no longer be charged more than men for coverage.
“The American people aren’t interested in refighting old battles,” he said.
Then he addressed Republicans directly: “If you have specific plans to cut costs, cover more people and increase choice, tell America what you’d do differently. Let’s see if the numbers add up. . . . We all owe it to the American people to say what we’re for, not just what we’re against.”
This is the argument the state’s Democratic members of Congress should carry into their campaigns. Even in December, with the Kochs waging their television attacks and amid fresh memories of the faulty rollout of the program, the polls were mixed on whether opposing Obamacare was a winning argument for Republicans.
Between now and November, the website woes of 2013 will fade away, and the numbers Obama used Tuesday night to make his case will grow and grow.
Here’s the question Republican congressional candidates won’t be able to answer during the campaign: What will you do for the millions of Americans who will lose their health insurance if you get what you wish for and vote down the Affordable Care Act?
Obamacare can be a winner for Democrats in yet another arena, and that is the Legislature. Senate Republicans have blocked the expansion of Medicaid in New Hampshire. If they continue to do so, they will – and should – pay a price in November. As long as they dally, the state’s working poor citizens, and their children, pay the price.
So far, Republicans seem intent on fighting the last war. History has been unkind to the party when it has taken such a stance.
Social Security and Medicare are not part of a communist plot, and Obamacare isn’t evidence of creeping socialism. The public likes the programs for the elderly. As the new health-insurance overhaul takes effect, they expect their public servants to work out the kinks, not fight a lost battle to the last barricade.
If the Republicans insist on making Obamacare the cornerstone of their fall campaign, Shaheen, Kuster and Shea-Porter should stand up for the program. Flaws and all, it’s a winner for the country, and it will be a winner on Election Day.
(Former Monitor editor Mike Pride of Concord is the editor of “Our War: Days and Events in the Fight for the Union.”)