Can the White House win on health care?

at 06:30 AM ET, 03/27/2012

The assumption in the professional political world has long been that, if President Obama wants to win a second term in November, he should talk as little as possible about the health care bill that he signed into law two years ago.


A shaft of light hits a portrait of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) as healthcare law supporters rally on the sidewalk outside ongoing legal arguments over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act at the Supreme Court on Monday. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)
Polling suggested — and continues to suggest — that the American public is unfavorably inclined to the law; in a Washington Post-ABC survey earlier this month, 41 percent supported the law while 52 percent opposed it

Up until the last few weeks, Obama and his political team seemed to be following that “sweep it under the rug” strategy. Obama, for example. made only passing reference to the law in his State of the Union address earlier this year.

That all has changed as the Supreme Court begins to hear oral arguments on the constitutionality of the law this week. Suddenly, Obama and his senior advisers seem to be promising to not only keep the healthcare law at the center of the debate in the general election, but also take the fight to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney on the issue.

“Mitt Romney is the godfather of our health care plan,” senior White House adviser David Plouffe said on “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “If he’s president, remarkably, he’s running away from that past, and he says he’s going to try and throw all this away, we’re going to have a big fight about health care again.”

What makes the White House and Obama campaign believe they can win a “big fight” in November on an issue that, by any account, cost them control of the U.S. House and a handful of U.S. Senate seats in the 2010 election?

Their assumption is based on two basic premises.

The first is that public opinion on the law remains fungible and that, as voters become more and more informed about the law and what’s in it, the more likely they will be to support it. White House allies note that many of the individual provisions of the health care law poll far more popular than the entirety of it, and if they can turn the conversation to those things, they can win.

To do so, argued one Democratic consultant closely tracking the politics of health care, the party must run to — not from — the law. “I have always believed that it was a mistake for congressional Democrats to vote for it then run away from it instead of embracing it,” the source said. “If you own it you can make a very good case for it.”

That appears to be what Obama and his political team are doing with the embrace of the term “Obamacare”, a leading edge of that new approach.

Of course, it’s also worth noting that the White House has been making the “just wait and see” argument on health care for the better part of the past two years. The attempted education effort on the law has done little to change public opinion, and any attempt to recast the law between now and November will be met with fierce — and well-funded — resistance from Republicans. This is not a fight that will take place in a vacuum.

The second premise is that, even if voters can’t be persuaded to like Obama’s health care law, they will like Romney’s flip-floppery on it even less. (Philip Rucker and Dan Balz have a great piece in today’s Post on the politics of Romney’s health care bill..)

That sentiment explains Plouffe’s comments on “Meet the Press” — laying the groundwork for a general election argument over whether Romney supported the health care law before he opposed it.

The Obama team knows full well that the negative caricature of Romney that exists in the electorate is that he will say or do anything to get elected — that he lacks any real core. By going directly at Romney’s involvement in what the Obama team will describe as a model for the Affordable Care Act — albeit at the state level — they believe they can play into that flip-flopping narrative in a powerful way.

Running on health care remains a risky proposition for Obama given the disastrous electoral results of 2010 and the fact that many of the main provisions of the law won’t kick in until after voters cast their ballots in November.

But, might running away from it exact an even more painful political price?

Poll shows just one quarter want law upheld: A new poll shows two-thirds of Americans want the Supreme Court to overturn at least the individual mandate portion of the health care law.

The CBS News/New York Times poll shows 38 percent want the entire law overturned, while another 29 percent want the individual mandate struck down.

Only 26 percent say they hope the court upholds the entire law, while 7 percent offered no opinion.

Those are some pretty stark numbers and reflect the difficult battle ahead for Obama’s White House and campaign in changing people’s minds.

The Supreme Court indicated Monday that it will indeed decide on the constitutionality of the bill. The judges reviewed a statute that prevents challenges to new taxes before they are implemented, but they sounded skeptical of that argument.

The case continues today and Wednesday.

Biden’s team announced: The Obama reelection campaign is announcing Vice President Biden’s senior staff.

Leading the way for Biden will be chief of staff Sheila Nix, deputy chief of staff Scott Mulhauser and political director Trip King. Nix comes to the campaign from Bono’s ONE advocacy organization, Mulhauser is leaving his job as senior advisor and counsel to the Senate Finance Committee, and King is a former aide to Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.) who ran Biden’s campaign in South Carolina in 2008.

In addition, Amy Dudley will move from Biden’s official press office to become his campaign press secretary, Nora Cohen will be Deputy Director of Advance, and Virginia Lance will serve of scheduler.

Fixbits:

Santorum’s super PAC is set to go up with a $300,000 ad buy in Wisconsin on Tuesday.

South Park” does the GOP presidential candidates.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) helps Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) retire the debt from her presidential campaign.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) fights with her legislature. Meanwhile, she’ll be in D.C. next Tuesday pitching her memoir.

Former Colorado Senate candidate Ken Buck (R) endorses former congressman Mark Neumann (R-Wis.) in his Senate primary.

Former Maine governor Angus King (I) is getting some pressure to pick which party he would caucus with if he wins the state’s Senate race.

Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) is forced to write another check after a third-party group advertises on his behalf.

Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) declines to participate in a gubernatorial debate, saying it was scheduled without checking with his campaign.

A pro-life activist joins businessman Dave Spence in the GOP primary to face Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D).

California Republicans are challenging Democratic congressional candidate Jose Hernandez’s ability to describe himself on the ballot as an “astronaut.” Hernandez is challenging Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.)

Must-reads:

GOP’s gas price politics could prove fleeting” — Michael O’Brien, MSNBC

The consequences of standing on principle” — Charles Lane, Washington Post

Super PACs, interest groups battle in Indiana Senate race” — Tom LoBianco, AP

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