What a strange thing for President Obama to say about a health-care law with so many problem and so little approval: Obamacare, he said Tuesday, is “here to stay.” It was a defiant reaffirmation of the status quo, based on virtually meaningless sign-up numbers that tell us nothing about the numbers of newly insured Americans. Republicans hope that assertion will hold up as well as “If you like your insurance plan you can keep it.”
The president says it — whatever the “it” is (grandfather your existing plan?) — is here. Forever. And yet, Democrats aren’t running on their permanent addition to the government. Far from it. Democrats running in red states keep promising to “fix” Obamacare. (Does anyone think a Democratic White House would let them? Democratic Party chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) says there is nothing much to fix, just small stuff.) The office of the maybe soon-to-be Republican Senate majority leader ruefully sent out an e-mail with the subject “Well, if SHE doesn’t think it’s a good idea…”; attached was a report that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was already moving on. (“While Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi took an Obamacare victory lap Tuesday afternoon, she appeared hesitant to make the law the central plank in her party’s push to win in 2014, telling reporters that ‘while we’re proud of the Affordable Care Act, we now pivot to jobs.’ ”)
Nothing is ever beyond debate in American politics, as we all know. Surely the Democrats in 2016 will change their tune and claim the election of a Democratic president is essential to keeping Obamacare. But Obamacare now has generated two measuring sticks: the original promise of no insurance plan upheaval, no cost hikes and tens of millions newly insured, and the reality of Obamacare. The Republicans no longer are obliged to meet the former; but it is more essential than ever that they tell voters they can have something better, cheaper and less disruptive than Obamacare in practice. It is one thing to tell voters that Obamacare is rotten and should be replaced by a better GOP plan; it’s quite another simply to pull the plug and invite Democrats to claim Republicans are “taking away” health-care coverage.
It will behoove the House to pass its alternative. It will be necessary for every 2016 contender for president to lay out his or her own ideas. If Republican reformers are serious, they will present a whole slew of GOP proposals to make life better for middle-class and poor voters, starting with a better health-care system, school choice, a pro-growth economic plan and a domestic energy initiative.
The president has it exactly wrong. The debate hasn’t ended; it’s just begun.