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The Recurring Referendum on ObamaCare

ObamaCare is in need of some good press–but it’s looking for love in all the wrong places. Organizing for Action–the overcaffeinated remnants of the Obama reelection campaign–has been tweeting out success stories, usually of people who had previously been denied coverage, for example, but now can get it under ObamaCare. This is understandable, and it’s the kind of anecdote the president also relies on to convey the value of his very unpopular, thus-far-disastrous signature “achievement.”

But it’s the wrong approach. What the pro-ObamaCare apparatchiks really need are stories like this one from Politico, headlined “For Obamacare, it’s finally showtime.” The Obama administration could hardly do better than stories that ludicrously portray January 1, 2014 as the real beginning of the test. As Politico offers:

Obamacare just got real.

Sure, there were some new rules and benefits over the last few years, but that was just a warmup. Starting today, all of the big pieces of the Affordable Care Act — the biggest domestic achievement of Barack Obama’s presidency and one of the most far-reaching changes in American social policy in decades — go into effect. And Americans will start to see, for better or worse, how the law really works.

OFA should be tweeting out this story every hour on the hour. Why move the goalposts when you can put the scoreboard back to zeros? Though on the other hand, if the president and his advisors buy into this mindset they will find themselves unready to deal with the reality, which is that the country cannot call a “do-over down,” as we used to say in our recess football games in grade school, on ObamaCare.

And that reality is important for the administration to keep track of, because Republicans are putting aside, at least temporarily, the drive to repeal the law at all costs in favor of tactics designed both to highlight ObamaCare’s increasingly prevalent flaws while also riding to the rescue. As the Hill reports:

In a memo to Republican lawmakers on Thursday, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said he would schedule a vote on a proposal to require the government to notify individuals if their personal information has been compromised on HealthCare.gov.

Cantor cited the recent data breach at Target in which hackers gained access to the financial information of millions of customers, and he pointed to a study by the credit report bureau Experian warning that the healthcare industry would be the most susceptible to data breaches in 2014.

“If a breach occurs, it shouldn’t be up to some bureaucrat to decide when or even whether to inform an individual that their personal information has been accessed,” Cantor wrote.

Four House committees have held hearings documenting the risks of data breaches within HealthCare.gov, and Cantor accused the Obama administration of downplaying the threat because it didn’t want to scare people away from signing up for insurance through the federal exchange.

In fact the data security troubles are a real concern, because presumably health-insurance exchanges will need access to more sensitive personal data than Target does, which means security breaches–which the administration has apparently not prepared for–are quite serious.

But Republican attempts to help fix ObamaCare are trouble for the administration for another reason: they are obviously legal, while the GOP will make the case that the administration’s own fixes–arbitrary declarations that some parts of the law can be ignored until the Democrats feel they are in better shape for the midterms–are not:

Eleven GOP attorneys general say the Obama administration is breaking the law by repeatedly making changes to ObamaCare without going through Congress.

The attorneys general specifically criticize President Obama’s executive action that allowed insurance companies to keep offering health plans that had been canceled for not meeting ObamaCare’s more rigorous standards.

“We support allowing citizens to keep their health insurance coverage, but the only way to fix this problem-ridden law is to enact changes lawfully: through Congressional action,” the attorneys general wrote in a letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “The illegal actions by this administration must stop.”

On the one hand, this is a fairly obvious attempt to give congressional Republicans–who control the House–a shot at taking apart the law. On the other hand, the administration is undoubtedly behaving lawlessly in some respects.

This was always one of the gambles the administration took in the way it went about enacting and then enforcing ObamaCare. The public rarely pays much attention to process stories, preferring to focus instead on the merits of any particular bill. But the process stories can pile up, and if the law is unpopular it will more easily be branded illegitimate. And the more it gains that reputation, the more support there will be for something like full repeal. The Democrats’ lack of credibility even in “fixing” the law shows why they appear headed into the 2014 midterms defending a four-year-old law.