Does it matter what President Obama calls his health-care reform law? That question arises because he’s seemed to shift his references in recent days. Previously, he’d embraced the label “Obamacare,” saying it reflected the fact that he did indeed care about uninsured Americans. But as Politico notes, that term now seems to have fallen into White House disfavor.
Instead, the administration appears to again prefer “Affordable Care Act” (ACA), which reflects the law’s full name, “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.” That’s how Mr. Obama has been referring to it in public. Democratic Party talking points now emphasize the “Affordable Care Act” phrase.
“Calling it the Affordable Care Act has advantages for Democrats seeking to defend health care reform while still criticizing the bungled White House rollout,” Politico’s Reid J. Epstein wrote last week.
Think this is just a minor tweak, or maybe the media are reading too much into the president’s rhetoric? We’d say that’s highly unlikely. Administrations poll voters on the use of one word or another all the time. Indeed, that’s a technique used throughout US politics.
“It’s a truism in politics that labels matter,” Gallup’s editor in chief Frank Newport writes in his blog on survey techniques.
To show this, Gallup ran a poll that tested different ways to refer to the health-care law. The results showed that the name had at least a marginal effect on respondents’ opinions.
Gallup’s test went like this: Some people were asked whether they approved of the Affordable Care Act that had been signed into law by Obama. Some were simply asked if they liked the 2010 law that had changed the US health system. A third variant asked if respondents liked “Obamacare.” A fourth asked if they liked the “Affordable Care Act,” with no mention of Obama at all.
That last version polled the best. Using that question, Gallup found that 45 percent of respondents approved of the ACA and 49 percent disapproved.
In contrast, the version that referred only to “Obamacare” polled worst. Only 38 percent approved of Obamacare per se, while 54 percent of respondents disapproved.
“These results suggest that the Obama administration’s decision to shift to Affordable Care Act as their label of choice and to avoid using Obamacare would appear to be a branding strategy that works in the administration’s interest,” Mr. Newport writes. “Clearly, all else being equal, the words ‘Affordable Care Act’ engender a modestly more positive reaction than the term Obamacare.”
This shouldn’t be that surprising. Presidents can be polarizing. Lots of political science research shows that personal involvement on the part of a US chief executive makes political opponents view an issue in a more negative light.
We’d also note that even the best-case scenario in that Gallup poll shows that opinion of the ACA is more negative than positive. That probably reflects both the public’s long-felt wariness about the law and the continued negative publicity from its problematic rollout.
[Updated: 7:45 p.m. Eastern time] President Obama met with actors and animators at DreamWorks in Glendale, Calif., on Tuesday, including banjo player/comedian Steve Martin, who is the voice of a villain in an upcoming film. In remarks afterwards Obama stressed the importance of the movie industry to the US economy.
“In a global race for jobs and industries, the thing we do better than anybody is creativity,” said Obama.
Why DreamWorks? CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg is a longtime Obama friend, supporter, and fundraiser, so we’ll go with that. However, we’ll also note that the White House rejects such a direct connection. Mr. Katzenberg’s past support for Obama, it says, has no bearing on the locale.
“DreamWorks obviously is a thriving business and is creating lots of jobs in southern California,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest, according to the Associated Press.
But cash is clearly a central purpose of the president’s current two-day swing through Los Angeles. He’s spending lots of time raising money from Hollywood liberals.
Obama attended two fundraisers on Monday, one at the home of former Lakers great Magic Johnson, another at the home of media mogul Haim Saban. On Tuesday he’s hitting another cohosted by Marta Kauffman, co-creator of the sitcom “Friends.”
Obama’s not running again, so the money’s not for his own political coffers, of course. It’s for the Democratic Party as a whole and for a party fund that donates to House and Senate Democratic candidates.
Variety has good figures on the estimated attendance and ticket prices at these events. Mr. Johnson expected about 160 guests, paying from $2,500 to $15,000 a ticket. Using the highly scientific method of just picking a number in between, we’d say the average guest paid $8,000, which would roughly lead to a haul of $1.3 million.
The Saban party had 120 guests at $16,200 a ticket. That’s $1.9 million. The “Friends” fundraiser was expected to draw 30, at $32,500. That’s another $975,000.
Altogether, that’s an estimate of about $4.175 million in Democratic Party money raised. Not bad for delivering a couple of speeches in a city that’s not getting hit by a cold storm, as Washington is.
Of course, Republicans have long tried to use the Democrats' Hollywood connection against them. This election cycle, a "super PAC" associated with Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is already running a Web ad hitting Democratic opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes for her Hollywood support.
“Why does Alison Lundergan Grimes take money from Obama-backing Hollywood celebrities who don’t share our Kentucky values?” the ad concludes.
And Hollywood does seem pretty liberal if all you are looking at is the actual stars. The invaluable political-money research group Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) analyzed the political contributions of the 2013 Academy Award nominees, for instance, and found them overwhelmingly directed toward Democrats.
Nominees and their families have made more than $3.6 million in federal political contributions since 1990, but only $4,000 of that went to Republicans, according to CRP. (That $4K came from film director Steven Spielberg, if you’re interested.)
But when tracking political money for a particular industry, it’s always good to look beyond the individuals. Hollywood in a corporate sense spends its political money differently. In the 2012 election cycle, the PAC of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), film’s D.C. trade arm, gave slightly more money to Republicans than to Democrats, according to a CRP estimate. And it gave $100,000 to Americans for Tax Reform, an anti-tax group led by conservative Grover Norquist.
The MPAA “is a savvy Washington organization. Its chairman and CEO is retired Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), but by no means does it support only liberals,” according to CRP.
If it works out as advertised – reining in those capabilities while easing economic sanctions on Iran – it could be a big win for President Obama as he bottoms out (he hopes) in public opinion polls grading his competency, effectiveness, and trust.
But it’s also a major challenge for him, with Republicans and many Democrats (not to mention this country’s most politically powerful ally – Israel) skeptical if not downright derisive of the agreement.
So how do Americans feel about this effort to reduce what Israel sees as an “existential threat” to its existence, a threat made by a country that once considered the US to be “the Great Satan?”
For now, it seems, most Americans back Obama on the Iran nuclear deal.
A CNN/ORC International poll in late September found that “three-quarters of Americans say they favor direct diplomatic negotiations with Iran in an attempt to prevent that country from developing nuclear weapons.”
"Large majorities in all major demographic categories favor negotiations with Iran over their nuclear program, including 87 percent of Democrats and 68 percent of Republicans,” said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “This is nothing new for the US public – in 2009, virtually the same number of Americans said they favored negotiations with Iran.”
That poll didn’t look at the latest agreement, just at the subject of negotiating. More recently (this past week), CNN polling shows majority public approval for the type of agreement just worked out.
“A majority of Americans support an interim deal with Iran that would ease some economic sanctions on that country in exchange for concessions on Iran's nuclear program,” CNN reported. “A CNN/ORC International survey released Thursday indicates that 56 percent of the public would favor an international agreement that would impose major restrictions on Iran's nuclear program but not end it completely, with 39 percent opposed to such an agreement.”
Not surprisingly these findings break along partisan lines, polling director Holland points out, “with two-thirds of Democrats favoring a deal along those lines but only 45 percent of Republicans agreeing with that view.”
Also this past week, while negotiations were underway in Geneva, a Washington Post/ABC poll asked this question: “Thinking now about the situation with Iran, would you support or oppose an agreement in which the United States and other countries would lift some of their economic sanctions against Iran, in exchange for Iran restricting its nuclear program in a way that makes it harder for it to produce nuclear weapons?”
By a 64-30 percent margin, a clear majority of those surveyed agreed with the premise of the question, which is the essence of the deal just worked out.
Again there were differences in party registration, but most Republicans (57 percent) and Independents (63 percent) agreed, as did Democrats (72 percent).
“This new poll, then, could free up members of Congress in how they approach the negotiations, giving them a bit more political space to support a deal that has such wide popular support, despite the political risks,” writes Washington Post foreign affairs blogger Max Fisher. “That could be a significant asset for the Obama administration in making any nuclear deal happen.”
The next six months should show whether this kind of public opinion significantly helps Obama make his case.
John F. Kennedy was a voracious reader. In part this was due to the ill health that led to many invalid days in bed as a youth. He was often stuck in hospital stays for tests and treatment. Visitors would remark that the thin, young patient could hardly be seen behind the books piled around his pillow.
Adult visitors were sometimes surprised at how many of those books were serious histories.
“I was very impressed, because at that point this very young child was reading ‘The World Crisis’ by Winston Churchill,” said a friend of father Joseph P. Kennedy who saw JFK in the Mayo Clinic in 1934.
Throughout his life Kennedy loved what today might be considered dusty tomes. He read most if not every book Churchill wrote. In an article for Life Magazine in 1961 he listed as among his favorites Churchill’s million-word-long biography of ancestor John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough.
Churchill said he undertook Marlborough’s life to rescue his reputation from the smears of past historians. Perhaps the young Kennedy was thrilled by Churchill’s recitations of Marlborough’s many military victories.
“It is the common boast of his champions that he never fought a battle that he did not win, nor besieged a fortress he did not take,” wrote Churchill.
As he got older, another book Kennedy cited often was John Buchan’s memoir “Pilgrim’s Way,” published posthumously in 1940. A British aristocrat, Buchan had served in the Boer War and World War I. He later rose to be governor general of Canada. “Pilgrim’s Way” is something of an elegy for the many friends and promising youths swept away in the Great War’s trenches.
One of those was Raymond Asquith, son of the British Liberal Prime Minister H.H. Asquith, who died in the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Buchan had known Asquith in school and admired him, and in “Pilgrim’s Way” he wrote: “He loved his youth, and his youth has become eternal. Debonair and brilliant and brave, he is now part of that immortal England which knows not age or weariness or defeat”.
Kennedy marked this passage in his copy of the book, writes historian and journalist Nigel Hamilton in his “JFK: Reckless Youth.” Asquith was the clever son of a powerful man, light-hearted and high-spirited in college, as was Kennedy.
“Did Jack identify with Asquith?” wrote Hamilton.
JFK gave Jacqueline Bouvier a copy of “Pilgrim’s Way” when courting her. It was meant to explain to her what sort of person he was.
“Jackie . . . was captivated. . . None of the young men touted by her mother had ever done anything like that,” writes author Barbara Leaming in her book “Mrs. Kennedy.”
Kennedy also gave Jackie Lord David Cecil’s “The Young Melbourne,” which describes the early years of a man who became Britain’s Prime Minister from 1834 to 1841. It delves deeply into the world of Whig aristocrats of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, men who moved constantly between episodes of high political seriousness and intense pleasure, notes Leaming.
As President, Kennedy pushed the works of Ian Fleming, creator of British agent 007, James Bond. He listed Fleming’s “From Russia with Love” as one of his favorites on his Life Magazine list.
Fleming, of course, famously served himself in British intelligence during World War II. Reportedly Kennedy met Fleming at a dinner in 1960 and asked him how he might rid the US of troublesome Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Fleming told him to convince Castro that his beard attracted radiation, which could cause him to shave it and lose his iconic revolutionary identity.
Kennedy also admired Ernest Hemingway. In the opening of his own book “Profiles in Courage,” JFK quoted Hemingway’s description of courage as ‘grace under pressure’.
The two men never met. But after Hemingway’s death in 1961, the Kennedy administration arranged for his widow Mary to enter Cuba, despite the travel ban in place. Once there she retrieved personal papers and other items from Hemingway’s Cuban villa Finca Vigia, which they had fled during Castro’s revolution.
She later donated Hemingway’s papers to the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library and Museum. There’s a Hemingway room in the JFK Library’s Boston waterfront building.
He didn’t do much in terms of passing legislation. The big civil rights and tax-cut bills associated with his name were actually pushed through Congress by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Partly that was because Kennedy did not actually have that much time in the Oval Office, serving as president only a thousand days.
He’s remembered as the hero of the Cuban Missile Crisis, resisting the advice of many security officials to destroy the Soviet launchers with military force. But Kennedy’s approval of the Bay of Pigs invasion at the beginning of his term was a mistake that might have led Cuban leader Fidel Castro to accept those launchers in the first place. And Kennedy escalated US involvement in Vietnam, increasing the number of US advisers in the country from a few hundred to 16,000 while opening the spigots of military and political aid.
Then there’s his womanizing. In recent decades, credible reports of his many mistresses have cast his personal life in a far different light.
But despite all this, in Gallup polls Americans have named Kennedy as the most outstanding US president of the modern age ever since the firm first asked that question in 1990.
In the latest Gallup poll, released this month, nearly three-quarters of respondents said Kennedy will go down in history as an outstanding or above-average US chief executive.
Other pollsters have produced similar results. A new Hart Research survey conducted for the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics found respondents rated JFK as the best president of those elected since 1950.
On a scale of 1 to 10, respondents rated Kennedy as a 7.6, on the mean. Ronald Reagan was second at 6.9 and Dwight Eisenhower third at 6.8.
Well, for one thing, Kennedy’s reputation started off high. He’s not just popular in retrospect. He was extraordinarily popular while in office.
His average job approval rating from 1960 through 1963 was 70 percent, according to Gallup. That’s 5 points higher than the number for Kennedy’s predecessor, Eisenhower, and much higher than the average approval for all JFK’s successors.
Second, Kennedy’s image of youth and energy has echoed down the years. His charisma comes through, even in black-and-white photos. He was, and remains, a president Americans believe stood for real hope and change.
The Hart survey asked respondents to write a brief impression or feeling about JFK’s most significant attribute. “A great man, a good family, youthful, energetic, relatable” was the most common response.
Asked to pick from a list of words that symbolized the mood of the country in 1963, a plurality of 37 percent of voters today pick “changing,” according to the Hart results. Thirty-six percent picked “young/youthful.”
Third, the revelations about women do not appear to have affected his reputation as president. That’s implicit in his continued popularity among voters. It’s explicit in Hart findings. The firm asked voters if reports of Kennedy’s extramarital relationships had affected their view of his presidency. Forty-four percent said it made them feel less of him as a person, but not as a president. Thirty-six percent said it made no difference either way.
Only 17 percent of adults said it made them view JFK in a more negative light on both personal and political grounds.
Finally, Kennedy’s untimely end may play a part in his popularity. He’s become enshrined as a martyr, particularly in Democratic households. But William McKinley was another popular, energetic president cut down by an assassin’s bullet. He faded from the popular mind in a way JFK has not.
Maybe it’s because Kennedy, even now, so embodies that era's palpable sense of freshness and promise. The youngest man elected to the presidency, Kennedy smiles brightly in those photos from Dallas from before his fateful turn near the Texas School Book Depository. On the morning of Nov. 22, 1963, Americans were upbeat about him and about the nation, points out Andrew Kohut, founding director of the Pew Research Center. Fully 82 percent thought America’s power would increase in 1963. Sixty-four percent said business conditions were good.
“The mood of America then had few parallels with the modern era,” writes Mr. Kohut.
Today, we yearn for that time before Lee Harvey Oswald’s rifle shots took America’s innocence. Some of that is baby boomer nostalgia for their past youth. But polls show those too young to remember JFK’s assassination view him almost as positively as do their elders.
“We will always see Jack and Jackie in the majestic black presidential limousine, smiling, waving, bathed in adulation and glorious sunshine,” concludes Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist and author of the “Kennedy Half Century: The Presidency, Assassination, and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy.”
President Obama is spending much of Wednesday honoring John F. Kennedy. In the morning, he’s presenting Medal of Freedom awards, whose modern version was established by JFK. Afterward, he and first lady Michelle Obama, former President Bill Clinton, and ex-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. That is sure to be an emotional appearance.
The Kennedy grave site is one of the most striking spots in the national capital region. It sits on a long slope in Arlington National Cemetery below the Custis-Lee Mansion, which dates from 1802 and was first owned by an adopted son of George Washington.
Kennedy’s burial there was far from foreordained. In the immediate aftermath of his assassination, many assumed he would be buried in Brookline, Mass., which as one JFK loyalist put it was the “Hyde Park of the Kennedys,” referring to the New York hamlet that was the ancestral homeland of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Only two presidents were buried in Washington, D.C.: William Howard Taft at Arlington National Cemetery across the Potomac River, and Woodrow Wilson at the National Cathedral in the upper northwest quadrant of the city.
Kennedy’s sisters assumed that Brookline, or perhaps Boston Common, was where JFK would be interred. So did his brother Robert and the so-called Boston mafia, his longest-serving aides.
She was gently steered in this direction by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, a forceful personality who felt the president should be buried on federal land, where he was accessible to the American people.
Early on the morning of Saturday, Nov. 23, the day after the assassination, McNamara was in his office at the Pentagon perusing alternative Arlington sites. As a steady rain began, he left to tour the cemetery with its superintendent. They looked at three possible locations: an area named Dewey Circle, a plot near a memorial to the USS Maine, and the hill below the Lee Mansion.
McNamara much preferred the Lee Mansion site. He then rounded up Robert F. Kennedy and JFK’s sisters and brought them to see the slope, as the rain got heavier, according to William Manchester’s “Death of a President,” the classic book on that terrible November week.
The family contingent was converted. At 2 p.m., the widow left to see the potential grave site.
“Jacqueline Kennedy’s first visit to Arlington was like the opening of the final act of ‘Our Town,’ ” Mr. Manchester wrote. “The steady rain was glacial, numbing.”
Her entourage was silent. A mass of soldiers held umbrellas over Mrs. Kennedy in an effort to keep her dry. She looked over the hill for about 15 minutes.
Later she said, “We went out and walked to that hill, and of course you knew that was where it should be.”
Mary Cheney is gay. She and wife Heather Poe are raising two children.
“Liz – this isn’t just an issue on which we disagree – you’re just wrong – and on the wrong side of history,” wrote Mary Cheney on her Facebook page.
This intra-family spat was sparked by a comment that older sister Liz, who’s running for the GOP Senate nomination against incumbent Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi, made earlier in the day on “Fox News Sunday”.
Asked by host Chris Wallace if she’d flip-flopped on gay rights, Liz Cheney said she hadn’t. While she supports equal benefits for same-sex partnerships, she thinks it’s an issue best left to states to decide.
“I do believe in the traditional issue of marriage,” she said.
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This is what did not sit well with little sister Mary and Mary’s spouse Heather Poe, whose own Facebook comments were direct and personal.
“Liz has been a guest in our home, has spent time and shared holidays with our children, and when Mary and I got married in 2012 – she didn’t hesitate to tell us how happy she was for us,” wrote Poe. “To have her now say she doesn’t support our right to marry is offensive to say the least”.
The context of this story is that on gay marriage Liz Cheney is caught between her family and the politics of Wyoming.
Wyoming is a conservative state. Sen. Enzi, the man Cheney wishes to unseat, is himself a gay marriage opponent. Plus, an outside money group that supports Enzi, the American Principles Fund, has been running ads that take not-too-subtle swipes at Cheney as soft when it comes to gay rights issues.
An ad titled “Wrong for Wyoming," for instance, shows clips of Cheney appearing on the “liberal elites” channel MSNBC to discuss same-sex marriage. Cheney “supports government benefits for gay couples” says the spot.
Another, called “Wyoming Values”, features conservative icon and former GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee saying that Mike Enzi is a “principled conservative . . . who believes that a mom and dad can do a better job raising kids than a government ever can do”.
On “Fox News Sunday” Cheney complained about this tactic, saying “Senator Enzi’s friends and supporters are running a really scurrilous ad in Wyoming. And the senator has said many times that he doesn’t believe in gutter politics . . . I think he ought to renounce it,” says said.
Cheney may be struggling to get traction against an incumbent who’s punching back pretty hard against her primary challenge. There’s little polling in the thinly populated state, but a July survey by the Democratic firm PPP found her 28 points behind Enzi. An internal poll conducted by the aforementioned American Principles Fund at the end of October put Enzi up by a whopping 52 points.
That should be taken with a heaping tablespoon of salt. But it’s probably safe to say that at this point, with a long way to go in the campaign, Cheney remains well behind the three-term incumbent.
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President Obama will visit John F. Kennedy’s gravesite in Arlington National Cemetery on Wednesday, two days before the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination in Dallas, according to the White House.
The President will be accompanied by First Lady Michelle Obama, ex-President Bill Clinton, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The group will participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at Kennedy’s resting place on the long hill sloping down from Arlington’s Custis-Lee Mansion.
Later in the day Obama will further honor Kennedy’s legacy by holding the annual presentation ceremony for the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Kennedy established the modern version of this award, the highest civilian honor bestowed by the US government, in the months prior to his death.
This year’s recipients will include former President Clinton, media mogul Oprah Winfrey, and baseball star Ernie Banks, among others.
Then on Wednesday evening Obama will give a speech honoring JFK and his lasting influence at the Smithsonian Museum of American History. Kennedy family members are expected to attend.
The presence of the Clintons at Obama’s Kennedy events is sure to raise the question of whether Hillary may get his tacit endorsement in 2016. But beyond that is the larger, looming presence of JFK himself – an icon every subsequent American chief executive has had to deal with.
After all, associating oneself with the Kennedy aura remains potent politics. Fifty years after his death voters still often rank JFK as the best of modern presidents. A new Gallup poll finds that 74 percent of respondents believe Kennedy will go down in history as an outstanding or above-average president.
“This is the highest retrospective rating given to any of the 11 presidents who have held office since Dwight Eisenhower,” write Gallup’s Andrew Dugan and Frank Newport.
Some of that may be due to the Kennedy story – his glamour and life cut short by Lee Harvey Oswald’s bullet. But less-remembered today is that JFK was enormously popular throughout his 1,000 days in office. His job approval average was 70 percent.
That’s the highest of any president in Gallup’s history of systematically measuring job approval. By contrast, Obama’s average approval rating now stands at 49 percent.
“Elected by the closest of margins, Kennedy soon established a wide reservoir of support with the American public,” write Dugan and Newport.
Since the tragic day of November 22, 1963, two US presidents have been highly effective in using the memory of JFK to their own ends, according to University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato, author of “The Kennedy Half-Century: The Presidency, Assassination and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy”.
Lyndon Johnson is the first and most obvious of these. Kennedy’s big tax cut and civil rights bills were stuck in Congress at the time of his death. Master legislative technician LBJ used the Dallas tragedy to help get them passed.
“All Johnson had to do at first was to designate a bill or directive as necessary to fulfill President Kennedy’s agenda, and legislators and the public rushed to support it,” said Sabato in a recent interview with “The Week”.
Republican Ronald Reagan rates as the second president able to harness JFK’s memory, according to Sabato. With is hair and actor’s skill he had something of Kennedy’s comfort in front of the camera. He and his advisors also presented their program as a logical outgrowth of JFK’s more conservative impulses.
“Reagan’s use of JFK to achieve his across-the-board tax cut and to reinforce his tough anti-communist stance was masterful,” according to Sabato.
Among other presidents, Clinton talked about JFK the most but was interested in his own approach to presidential policies. Jimmy Carter wrestled with the Kennedy legacy, facing a direct challenge from little brother Sen. Ted Kennedy in 1980. Carter beat Kennedy for the Democratic nomination but then lost to Reagan in the general election.
Obama courted the Kennedy family and won Sen. Kennedy’s endorsement at a crucial moment in the 2008 campaign. Hillary Clinton had hoped for the nod as well but was rebuffed.
In that sense, her appearance at the JFK gravesite on Wednesday with the man who beat her in 2008 may close a circle. Obama might be helping her to associate in the public mind with the youthful, dynamic JFK, at long last.
The headlines seemed to come in a rapid-fire rhetorical onslaught.
“Fighting for His Presidency … Does Obama Have Any Cred Left? … Does the health-care fumble mean game over for Obama? … The five biggest ways Obamacare’s problems have hurt Democrats … Is This Obama’s Katrina? … Obama needs his friends back.”
If President Obama has had a worse week than the one just ending, it’s hard to remember.
He had to apologize for the Affordable Care Act computer problems that have turned out to be far more than “glitches.” He acknowledged having misspoke – Republicans say he lied – when he told the American people they could keep their existing health-care plans. He watched as more than three dozen Democratic House members jumped ship to vote for a Republican bill adjusting Obamacare in a way the White House threatens to veto.
"I'm just going to keep on working as hard as I can around the priorities that I think the American people care about,” Obama said Thursday in what must have been an excruciating press conference. “And I think it's legitimate for them to expect me to have to win back some credibility on this health-care law in particular and on a whole range of these issues in general."
Fumbling in football was the image he raised again and again.
“We fumbled the rollout on this health-care law,” he said. “I am very frustrated, but I’m also somebody who, if I fumbled the ball, you know, I’m going to wait until I get the next play, and then I’m going to try to run as hard as I can and do right by the team.”
Questions remain. Will there be a “next play” for the embattled president, or will he be effectively benched? And who, exactly, is his “team” anymore?
The Washington Post’s “The Fix” political blog helpfully points out “The five biggest ways Obamacare’s problems have hurt Democrats” – a party that’s beginning to feel the kind of angst the GOP did last month when most Americans blamed the GOP for the government shutdown.
Thirty-nine Democrats joined Republicans Friday to pass a House bill that would allow insurers to keep selling the kinds of policies that were being canceled for existing customers. Not only that, they could offer such policies to new customers.
"It would take away the core protections of that law," complained Rep. Henry Waxman (D) of California. “It creates an entire shadow market of substandard health-care plans.”
It’s complicated, but as the Monitor’s Francine Kiefer writes, the change could result in “higher premiums and, potentially, an insurance system that can’t adequately support itself.”
As the Washington Post reported, the House vote was “the largest defection by far on a major or closely-watched piece of legislation this year, signaling the political difficulty that dozens of congressional Democrats face in reelection contests next year.”
Obama’s concession on existing health-care policies this week would only allow insurers and state insurance commissioners to extend those policies through most of 2014.
But some Democrats in the Senate – the most vulnerable ones facing reelection – likely would join Republicans in voting for a “Keep Your Health Plan Act” of the type that passed in the House 261-157.
Obama’s credibility gap – compared in the press to Ronald Reagan after Iran-contra, Bill Clinton after he was impeached over the Monica Lewinsky affair, and George W. Bush after hurricane Katrina – is crystal clear in the latest polls.
For the first time, a majority of voters (52 percent to 48 percent) say Obama is not “honest and trustworthy,” according to the most recent Quinnipiac University National Poll. The disapproval rating among women (51 percent to 40 percent), where Obama has done particularly well in past polls and elections, is even wider.
"President Obama's job approval rating has fallen to the level of former President George W. Bush at the same period of his presidency," says Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "Any Democrat with an 11-point approval deficit among women is in trouble. And any elected official with an 8-point trust deficit is in serious trouble."
"President Obama's misstatement, 'If you like your health plan, you can keep it,' left a bad taste with a lot of people,” Mr. Malloy says. “Nearly half of the voters, 46 percent, think he knowingly deceived them.”
Other polls find similar results.
About the time he was sworn in for a second term in January, Obama’s approval rating was mostly positive – 52 percent to 40 percent, according to the Pew Research Center. Now, those figures are reversed: 53 percent disapprove of the job he’s doing, while 41 percent approve. On health care, it’s even worse: 59 percent versus 37 percent.
“Credibility is not just about honesty. It's about authority,” writes John Dickerson, Slate’s chief political correspondent. “Does the president really have command over the things he's talking about?”
So far, most Americans don’t think so.
Washington is full of ideas on how to fix the fully loaded SUV known as Obamacare. On Thursday, President Obama offered his fix. On Friday, members of the House – including 39 Democrats – approved theirs, and other lawmakers have their own ideas. But all these busy mechanics could end up doing more damage to Obamacare.
Well, start with the general aim of the various repairs. They differ in detail, but basically, they would allow – for varying times – millions of Americans whose health insurance is being canceled under Obamacare to keep their plans and their doctors if they like them. Just like Mr. Obama originally promised.
So far, at least 4.2 million Americans have been sent cancellation notices by their insurers, according to an Associated Press survey. The important thing to remember about this group is that it tends to be healthier than the uninsured, who will be most attracted to Obamacare. If you allow these healthier individuals to remain outside the Obamacare pool, you are spelling actuarial trouble. It’s like removing a piston from an engine and still expecting it to run smoothly.
No one is sure exactly how big this problem could become, but the fear is that the Obamacare exchanges “will be attracting a disproportionate share of the higher-cost, sicker people,” says Cori Uccello, senior health fellow at the American Academy of Actuaries. That translates into higher premiums and, potentially, an insurance system that can’t adequately support itself.
From insurers’ point of view, it’s just too late to reverse course and implement the change. Some state insurance commissioners say that bringing back these canceled policies will actually violate new state laws that now forbid such “substandard” plans. Two biggies in this group are California and New York.
A reversal could just add to the confusion and lack of confidence already swirling around Obamacare. A crisis of confidence in the new health-care system could be debilitating. Take it from Larry Kocot, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution who helped roll out Medicare Part D, the prescription drug benefit, during the George W. Bush administration.
Back then, they called Part D’s stumbles “glitches,” but the rollout of Obamacare has “surpassed glitches,” he says. “It’s very, very hard to address confusion.”
So why make such repairs, when their downsides are so numerous? For one, the blowback from those unhappy with the cancellations has reached the force of a “Category 5 political hurricane,” as Rep. Greg Walden (R) of Oregon put it at a Monitor breakfast Friday. Real people, kicked off plans they liked, are now facing higher premiums and deductibles – and they’re telling their members of Congress about it.
Obama’s approval rating, too, has sunk to 39 percent. On Thursday, he tried to shield Democrats in Congress, some of whom face tough races in the midterm elections of 2014, by announcing an executive fix that leaves it up to insurers and states to allow people to return to their old health plans if they want to.
But the politics of Obamacare has become so damaging to Democratic lawmakers, who “own” Obamacare as much as the president does, that nearly 40 House Democrats peeled from their caucus to support Friday’s bill, backed by Rep. Fred Upton (R) of Michigan.
Most Democrats don’t like this bill, and Obama promises to veto it, because it allows new customers to sign on to canceled plans – enlarging the pool of people who could be attracted to the plans and worsening the outlook for Obamacare’s sustainability.
Instead, Democrats such as Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who has been criticized at home for her support of Obamacare and who faces a tough race next year, are working on their own legislation.
Where all this is headed is tough to say. But the rollout is producing problems beyond a broken website. Fixing them is like pulling on a loose thread. Give it a tug, and things start to unravel.