Republicans are no doubt aware that, according to President Barack Obama, the Affordable Care Act is “settled law.” The president drew applause and made his media admirers swoon when, following his reelection victory, Obama contended that the law passed legislative, judicial, and electoral hurdles and was “here to stay.” He was wasting his breath. The president should have been lecturing his fellow Democrats, because they appear not to have received the message.
As recent polls of the Democratic presidential race in New Hampshire and Iowa have demonstrated, Hillary Clinton is facing a scary prospect: a Bernie Sanders surge at precisely the moment when it might matter the most. Recent polls have shown Sanders’ support rising to striking distance of Clinton in Iowa and besting her by double-digits in New Hampshire. Perhaps that adversity has prompted Clinton’s allies to develop some sharper elbows in recent days. Clinton and her supporters’ attacks on Sanders have grown a touch more caustic, but the most stinging of those attacks focused on Sanders’ antipathy toward ObamaCare.
“His plan would take Medicare and Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Affordable Care Act health care insurance and private employer health insurance and he would take that all together and send health insurance to the states, turning over your and my health insurance to governors,” Clinton said of her self-described socialist opponent.
This wasn’t some off-the-cuff remark; it was part of a calculated attack on Sanders’s stance on health care issues and a defense of the signature achievement of Barack Obama’s administration. It’s true that the Vermont senator is no fan of the health care reform law in its current incarnation, which puts him at odds with a plurality self-identified Democrats. The general Democratic consensus on the Affordable Care Act was, however, forged amid unrelenting Republican opposition and unceasing efforts to repeal the law. It may not be entirely possible to divorce Democratic faith in health care law from their tribal instinct to rally around the president. At least, until now. With Barack Obama fading from relevance before our eyes, it has suddenly become possible, maybe for the first time in six years, to gauge rank-and-file Democratic support for the Affordable Care Act as opposed to “ObamaCare.” The 2016 Democratic presidential primary has midwifed that experiment into being.
The Vermont senator has said he supports Medicaid-for-all, a proposal that the Kaiser Family Foundation found has the backing of 81 percent of Democrats as of December. “Sanders has been saying since at least July that he would roll out his Medicare-for-all plan “in the very near future,” but it has yet to come,” MSNBC.com reporter Alex Seitz-Wald revealed. “In his capacity as a senator, he’s introduced legislation on the issue many times the past, but he has yet to explain how he would pay for it.” Sanders has long said that he would offer something more concrete about how to pay for his one-step-from-single-payer health care reform plan before the Iowa caucuses, but the Vermont senator’s campaign confirmed late Wednesday that this is a deadline they will probably miss.
Based on Democratic voters’ enduring support for President Obama and the fact that Sanders’ proposal is essentially a far-left daydream, Clinton surely thought that she was on firm ground when she went after Sanders for his wide-eyed attacks on the biggest step toward Ted Kennedy’s dream the party had ever successfully taken. That might also be why the former secretary of state’s daughter felt secure in throwing what may be the hardest punches of the Democratic race on this issue.
“Senator Sanders wants to dismantle Obamacare, dismantle the CHIP program, dismantle Medicare, and dismantle private insurance,” said the presidential daughter on the stump in New Hampshire. “I worry if we give Republicans Democratic permission to do that, we’ll go back to an era — before we had the Affordable Care Act — that would strip millions and millions and millions of people off their health insurance.”
Chelsea Clinton’s comments prompted a series of denunciations from her fellow Democrats, including Barack Obama’s campaign guru David Axelrod, who called the line dishonest and inappropriate. It forced Hillary Clinton herself to defend her daughter and the validity of the attack on Sanders’ voting record. Appearing on “Good Morning America” on Wednesday, Clinton insisted that a single-payer system like that envisioned by the left wing of her party would “cost middle-class families and working families.” The Sanders campaign capitalized on the moment by shooting off a tweet featuring an image of the candidate and then-first lady Clinton huddling for a strategy session in the early 1990s. “‘To Bernie Sanders with thanks for your commitment to real health care access for all Americans…’-@HillaryClinton,” the tweet read.
By Wednesday evening, the self-inflicted damage to the Clinton campaign was becoming apparent. “As of now, we are at about $1.4 million raised since yesterday when the panic attacks by the Clinton campaign began,” Sanders campaign spokesman Michael Briggs told the Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty. “We’ve gotten 47,000 contributions. We’re projecting 60,000 donations. Even for our people-powered campaign, this is pretty darn impressive.”
What this intramural debate over the future of ObamaCare has demonstrated is that the law is as fragile as Republicans always said it was. Clinton is already on record contending that aspects of the law as written, like the “Cadillac tax” on high-quality health care benefits packages, will have to go. Sanders is turning Clinton’s support for the rest of the health care reform law into a liability within their own party. A Republican-dominated Congress, meanwhile, just forced the president to veto the full repeal of his signature achievement. ObamaCare is beset on all sides. Once the law’s namesake is out of office, its future is far from secure. So much for “settled law.”