Obama hails 'real and major' reforms, but at what political cost?

In his weekly address, President Obama highlighted healthcare and college-loan legislation. But the new laws' partisan push by Democrats could come at a political price, the GOP hopes.

Charles Dharapak/AP
President Barack Obama speaks about healthcare reform at the Patriot Center at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., Friday, March 19.

America just grew stronger, President Obama said in his weekly Saturday address, citing major Democratic victories on healthcare reform and a new law making it easier to get and repay college loans.

The victories cemented at least part of Obama's legacy, as he became the first US president to realize the long-time Democrat dream of near-universal healthcare coverage for Americans.

Yet despite Obama's achievement, Republicans say they've found a winning formula in standing united against Democratic attempts to transform America into what they see as an entitlement state.

"These achievements don't represent the end of the challenge or the end of the work that faces our country, but represent real and major reform," Obama said in his address. "What they show is that we're a national still capable of doing big things and prove what's possible when we come together to overcome the politics of the moment … and look beyond the next election to do what's right for the next generation."

Politically, Obama is skillfully marginalizing Republicans, implying that they're more interested in winning elections than governing an increasingly diverse America facing new global challenges.

"We can't stall our progress because of political decisions that have been made by one party or the other that we're going to try and shut the whole process down," said Obama senior adviser David Axelrod, on NBC's "Today" show.

But even Democrats know that while the legislation is historic, the political victory may be short-lived. Republicans, post-Scott Brown, are likely to pick up more than a few seats in the November election, where all 435 House seats and more than one-third of the Senate is up for election.

The partisan vote on the healthcare reform unleashed a passionate response from conservatives and "tea party" followers, some of which went too far. But many Republicans are convinced that harnessing the power of being the oppositional force to Obama's worldview will be a winning formula come November.

Vowing his party would repeal the healthcare reform bill if they gain power in November, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said in the weekly Republican address that not all Americans felt included in the champagne toast President Obama held on the Truman Balcony after the House vote on healthcare reform.

"This is bad news for workers, and it’s terrible news for the broader economy. Most people aren't celebrating the fact that their insurance premiums will go up," McConnell said. "Seniors aren't popping champagne corks at more than a half a trillion dollars in Medicare cuts. And, job creators, already struggling in a down economy, aren't doing any cartwheels over all the mandates and new taxes they'll have to shoulder as a result of this bill."

But legitimate debate on the right was chilled this week, however, when Bush speechwriter David Frum was fired from the conservative American Enterprise Institute after suggesting that the Republican Party lost an opportunity for relevance by failing to engage Democrats in the healthcare debate.

Nevertheless, political experts say Republicans can, in fact, achieve political gains by simply standing in the Democrats' way.

"For the Republican base, which is energized, saying 'No' is plenty," Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political science professor, told Reuters.

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