The Morning Plum: White House tries to stanch Obamacare bleeding

President Obama (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

President Obama (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

Yesterday, in an interview with NBC News’ Chuck Todd, President Obama apologized to those who have seen insurance cancelled due to Obamacare, conceding many Americans had been misled by his vow that they’d keep plans they like.

“I am sorry that they are finding themselves in this situation, based on assurances they got from me,” Obama said. “We’ve got to work hard to make sure that they know we hear them and that we’re going to do everything we can to deal with folks who find themselves in a tough position as a consequence of this.”

Commentators are seizing on this as evidence the White House knows the rollout has created a serious political problem. This is probably true. The decision to deliver this apology in a one-on-one interview seems telling: Obama advisers have in the past opted for this setting to finesse difficult damage control. The apology was also meant to contain skittishness among Dems. One official tells the Post the White House feels responsible for the impact the law’s rollout is having on “the people who voted for it.”

All that said, I still say folks are missing something fundamental about how the White House and Dems view the politics of Obamacare. Republican glee about the rollout is largely rooted in polls showing continued majority disapproval. This, from Obama’s interview, is enormously important in understanding what is really going on:

“We, in good faith, have been trying to take on a health care system that has been broken for a very long time. And what we’ve been trying to do is to change it in the least disruptive way possible…everybody is acting as if the existing market was working…the average increase on premiums in this individual market for somebody who kept their health care for awhile, the average increase was double digits. If they actually got sick and used the insurance , they might find the next year their premiums  had gone up. Or the insurer might have dropped them altogether, because now they had a preexisting condition.”

The Obama team believes the middle of the country — even some of those who “disapprove” — does not want to return to the old system, is taking a “wait and see” attitude on Obamacare, and does not share the right’s view that the law is such a monstrous failure that it must be eliminated immediately, with little regard for what replaces it. The GOP political calculation does not take into account the willingness of many in the middle to take the long view: The health system’s problems run deep and won’t get fixed overnight; the party seen trying to fix it will get rewarded, however grudgingly; the one that blocks all solutions will get punished.

This goes back to Campaign 2012. As John Heilemann and Mark Halperin detail in Double Down, the Obama team decided in 2012, improbably, that the law was a net winner. Middle-of-the-road voters had factored the law into their thinking and remained on the fence about it, while health reform was a general plus among core Dem constituencies. The Romney team, they report, privately understood repeal “did not hold broad attraction in the middle of the electorate.”

Things are different now: The rollout fiasco is creating a concrete political problem that wasn’t there before. Perhaps public patience will run out. Perhaps the law will fail over time, leading to political disaster. But Republicans have yet to reap any political rewards from the current problems, and it’s still possible the White House’s long term read of public sentiment will prove right. They’ve been right before.

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* WHITE HOUSE TAKING STEPS TO FIX OBAMACARE PROBLEM: This nugget, from the Post overview of Obama’s apology for the problem of people getting bumped from insurance, is interesting:

A White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the president’s policy team has been investigating the possibility of an administrative solution since the problem surfaced as a significant issue late last month. The problem has arisen for those who buy insurance on the individual marketplace, a number that totals between 12 million and 15 million people. About half of those are probably being adversely affected by the Affordable Care Act, the aide said.

That’s significant, and suggests the pressure will be intense to show the law benefitting for large numbers as soon as possible.

* UNINSURED NOT USING EXCHANGES: Gallup finds:

In the midst of widespread news coverage of problems with the federal health exchange website, relatively few uninsured Americans (18%) — the primary target population for the exchanges — have so far attempted to visit an exchange website. The percentage is slightly higher, 22%, among uninsured Americans who say they plan to get insurance through the exchanges.

Of course, there are still over four months to go until the enrollment deadline, and previous health reforms have shown folks sign up late. But it seems very clear the first round of enrollment numbers will be painfully low.

* OBAMA ENDORSES HIKING MINIMUM WAGE TO $10: The New York Times reports the President will support Tom Harkin’s proposal to raise the minimum wage to at least $10 per hour, and Dems are proclaiming party unity behind the idea:

“The combination of an increase to $10.10 and some breaks for small business on expensing unite virtually the whole Democratic caucus, and we are prepared to move forward shortly,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, the Senate’s third-ranking Democrat.

This will be filibustered by Senate Republicans and wouldn’t have a prayer in the House. But Dems are likely to use it as a campaign issue, to sharpen the contrast in the parties’ priorities – the minimum wage was central in the 2006 midterms, when Dems took back both houses — so expect a big push on this.

* NO MORE GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWNS, MCCONNELL SAYS: Mitch McConnell tells Peggy Noonan that Tea Party zealousness is preventing Republicans from showing they can be “responsibly for governing,” adding this about the government shutdown:

“All it succeeded in doing was taking attention off of ObamaCare for 16 days. And scaring the public and tanking our brand — our party brand. One of my favorite old Kentucky sayings is that there’s no education in the second kick of a mule. It ain’t gonna happen again.”

That’s nice. Does this also mean Republicans won’t try again next year to use the debt limit to extort spending cuts?

* REALITY CHECK OF THE DAY: Ronald Brownstein has a typically excellent demographic dive into the meaning of the Virginia gubernatorial outcome:

Just one-third of Virginia whites said they favored the health care law, while two-thirds opposed it, the exit poll found. By contrast, three-fourths of Virginia minorities said they supported the law….this week’s results suggest that cultural affinity is the central glue now binding the Democratic coalition and that the party isn’t winning the larger argument about government’s role. That may be enough to hold the White House so long as Republicans continue aiming their agenda almost entirely at the preferences of conservative, mostly older, whites (as Cuccinelli did). But a Republican who could connect more effectively with minorities would instantly shift the discussion to why Democrats can’t sell their economic approach to more whites.

The results show the power of the “coalition of the ascendant” in a swing state, though the decreasing cultural appeal to conservative whites as a potential problem for Dems definitely bears watching.

* VIRGINIA OUTCOME NOT A REFERENDUM ON OBAMACARE: Meanwhile, Charlie Cook’s column amounts to a rebuke of bogus GOP spin about the Virginia gubernatorial contest. He notes Ken Cuccinelli lost because of ideological extremism, and that it’s impossible to say whether Obamacare made it so close:

Did the disastrous rollout of Obamacare hurt Democratic candidates, dampen party enthusiasm, and cost McAuliffe and other Democrats on the ticket momentum and support? It’s certainly plausible, maybe even likely, but it is unclear to what extent that was the case. The exit-poll results aren’t decisive on this point, and while public polling suggested that in the last week or two of the race Cuccinelli gained more points out of the previously undecided column than did McAuliffe, it’s not absolutely clear that Obamacare caused the shift.

Right. Obamacare is probably on probation with many voters, but if anything, the Virginia results help reinforce the idea that repeal is simply not a majority or mainstream position.

* DEBT OBSESSION IS CRIPPLING OUR ECONOMIC FUTURE: Paul Krugman keeps reminding us that the Beltway prioritization of “fiscal responsibility” over economic growth is not inevitable, it is a terribly misguided policy choice that is having catastrophic consequences:

[O]ne of the main things keeping the economy weak is the depressing effect of cutbacks in public spending — especially, by the way, cuts in public investment — all justified in the name of protecting the future from the wildly exaggerated threat of excessive debt. Is there any chance of reversing this damage? The Fed researchers are pessimistic, and, once again, I fear that they’re probably right. America will probably spend decades paying for the mistaken priorities of the past few years.

There may be a way of alleviating this somewhat in coming talks to replace the sequester, but that would require Republicans making concessions (on spending levels) in exchange for concessions from Dems, which is apparently unthinkable.

What else?

 

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