Marking Health Law Milestone, Obama Chides ACA Opponents

Marking Health Law Milestone, Obama Chides ACA Opponents
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President Obama on Wednesday challenged Sen. Ted Cruz and other Republicans interested in succeeding him to defend their vows to jettison the Affordable Care Act, noting administration evidence it has saved lives, covered more than 16 million new customers, and improved the federal government’s balance sheet.

During White House remarks celebrating the law’s fifth anniversary -- which actually occurred Monday -- the president defended its benefits and launched a new political season in which he and Democrats will joust with a large field of GOP presidential aspirants who have promised voters they would repeal “Obamacare.”

Cruz, who on Monday became the first conservative to declare his 2016 candidacy, was among Obama’s unnamed targets during his speech in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

“For folks who are basing their entire political agenda on repealing the law, you’ve got to explain how kicking millions of families off their insurance is going to somehow make us more free,” the president said, “or why forcing millions of families to pay thousands of dollars more will somehow make us more secure, or why we should go back to the days when women paid more for coverage than men, or a pre-existing condition locked so many of us out of insurance.”

Obama could have skewered Cruz and other GOP senators eyeing the Oval Office for their reliance on health coverage available under the law’s broad umbrella. But it was an irony he did not mention, and instead left to national media to discuss.

Cruz told the Des Moines Register Tuesday that he and his wife would sign up for federal health coverage because she is taking a leave of absence from her Goldman Sachs job to help his campaign. In the Senate in 2013, Cruz felt so strongly opposed to the Affordable Care Act that he led Congress toward a 16-day government shutdown in hopes that fellow conservatives might defund it.

The Tea Party favorite from Texas launched his presidential bid from Liberty University in Virginia, a conservative Christian college that has sued the government over the health law. “Imagine in 2017 a new president signing legislation repealing every word of Obamacare,” Cruz told cheering supporters.

Obama said Republicans have consistently struggled to tell voters about any health reforms they’d put in place of benefits and changes millions of Americans, as well as health insurers and health care providers, encounter every day. GOP predictions of “death panels, doom, and a serious alternative [to the law] from Republicans in Congress” have not materialized, he said.

“The Affordable Care Act works,” the president added, though he conceded that “there are still bumps along the way.”

On Capitol Hill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell responded to Obama’s remarks, calling the law “one rolling disaster after another.” Although his home state signed up and re-enrolled more than 53,000 people for private coverage in the second year under its ACA exchange, and expanded Medicaid to more than 56,000 Kentuckians as of February, McConnell says the law resulted in higher taxes and “higher costs.” The GOP alternative, he said, is “freedom to choose,” but he did not advocate any specific option if Republicans could repeal the existing law.

In McConnell’s state, the rate of uninsured tumbled from 20.4 percent in 2013 to 9.8 percent in 2014, according to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. Only Arkansas experienced a larger drop.

The RNC joined the discussion Wednesday with a swipe that Obama defended “his unpopular health law so Hillary Clinton can run for his third term.”

Clinton, who as a first lady in 1993 advocated universal health coverage and in 2010 applauded the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, made clear again this week that as a presidential candidate in 2016 she plans to embrace Obamacare and the administration’s challenges through the rocky phases of its implementation.

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com.  Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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