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When Democrats Fight About ObamaCare

Today was supposed to be a red-letter day for ObamaCare supporters. December 23 was the deadline for Americans to enroll in the Affordable Care Act so as to be covered by the start of 2014. While the White House has attempted to spin the uptick in enrollment in December as a victory, the disastrous rollout of the scheme as well as the need to postpone enforcement of a number of the mandates the law created an enormous shortfall in the number of Americans signing up for the plan. That’s a big problem for the administration, but one it hopes it can overcome eventually by better marketing (cue the “pajama boy”) to young and healthy consumers who will be exploited in order to fund the program’s benefits to the sick and the poor. But a real warning sign of the political trouble ObamaCare has created for Democrats is being illustrated in deep-blue Maryland.

As Politico reports, problems at the state health exchange created there have been an embarrassment for officials in Annapolis as well as an indication of the general dysfunction of the new health-care rules nationally. But instead of it just being a club for Republicans to beat the president’s party with, it has become an issue for Democrats too. Attorney General Doug Gansler is using the chaos at the Maryland exchange as a campaign issue against Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown in their primary matchup for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. Brown is the chair of the state panel on ObamaCare implementation whose efforts Gansler has likened to a Saturday Night Live skit.

Observers could dismiss Gansler’s attack as the desperate ploy of a faltering candidate hoping to cripple the frontrunner. But the fact that ObamaCare failures have become a source of friction between Democrats is significant. So long as the president and his cheerleaders in the media could dismiss the focus on the problems and broken promises connected to the legislation, they could hope to ride out the storm and eventually reap the political benefits of the program’s delivery of benefits to the poor. But if the ObamaCare fiasco becomes a talking point for Democratic primary candidates, even if they support the bill in principle, a critical point has been reached.

Gansler was once thought to be the favorite to succeed Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley next year. But the state attorney general was humiliated by the release of a photo showing that he was present at a high school beach party where drinking may have occurred as well as by allegations of misuse of his state trooper detail. With Gansler dropping, Brown has received endorsements from most of his party’s power brokers and is now the likely successor to O’Malley. But the ACA mess is a liability for him:

After vowing to make deep-blue Maryland an ACA success story, Brown – and O’Malley – watched with dismay as the website for the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange floundered, allowing fewer than 4,000 Marylanders to enroll in insurance plans by the end of November. The executive director of the state exchange resigned at the start of December.

It’s not clear that the ObamaCare mess will hurt Brown enough to affect the primary scheduled in June. But the Brown campaign’s response to Gansler’s attacks seems to be straight out of the unsuccessful playbook employed by the White House in recent months against Republicans. Merely hoping that everything will be cleared up in time to save his political bacon is hardly a stirring example of Brown’s leadership or of the prospects that ObamaCare will eventually succeed there, or in any other state.

But the main point to be gleaned from this race is that if ObamaCare has become a point of contention between Democrats, then it’s all but inevitable that it will be a potent issue for Republicans next fall. The health-care bill has never had the support of most Americans and polls show the number of those disapproving of it continues to grow.

The ranks of those citizens who stand to lose coverage or have their health-care costs increase as a result of it are also growing. That creates a large constituency of critics that include many Democrats. That means Gansler won’t be the only Democrat seeking to make political hay out of these problems–and that, in turn, means big trouble in 2014 for the president and his party.

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