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Obamacare's nine lives

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Beltway Confidential,Philip Klein,Barack Obama,Obamacare,Health Care,Healthcare.gov

As the bad news continues to mount for President Obama's health care law, Democrats may attempt to find comfort by reminding themselves of the many past times in which the consensus was that the law was doomed to fail, yet found a way to miraculously survive.

As Obama took office in 2009, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who was slated to perform a dual role as Secretary of Health and Human Services and the White House point man on health care, was forced to withdraw his nomination due to tax issues.

In the first few months of Obama's presidency, the economy was collapsing and deficits were soaring. After an $800 billion stimulus had just passed, many questioned whether Obama would be able to pass an expensive, comprehensive health care bill.

Ted Kennedy, the long-time champion of universal health care and skilled deal-maker in the Senate, was dying and could no longer serve as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee.

In June, the Congressional Budget Office's preliminary analysis found that the first proposal of the Senate HELP committee blew a hole in the deficit, while the rollout of the Senate Finance Committee bill was delayed.

In August, as congressional Democrats went home to their states and districts, they heard an earful from angry constituents, and public support for the law eroded.

That fall of 2009, prospects looked bleak for passage. Liberals were insistent that the final legislation include a "public option" — a government-run plan to be offered alongside private plans on the exchanges -- while more moderate Democrats in the Senate said they couldn't support a bill that included such a provision. The public funding of abortion issue threatened to peel off enough Democrats to sink the bill.

But through arm-twisting and backroom deals, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid were able to muscle bills through the House and Senate.

Then, in January 2010, Scott Brown won an upset victory in the Massachusetts special election to replace the Senate seat vacated by Kennedy's death, ending the Democrats' filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Things looked completely doomed. But once again, Obama and the Democrats found a way to get legislation across the finish line.

In the years that followed, Obamacare would survive a Republican wave election in 2010, a Supreme Court challenge that nearly brought down the whole law and a 2012 election.

So, given all the times in which the smart money pointed to Obamacare's demise and it somehow persevered, it's understandable that Obama and his allies are trying to tell Democrats to buck up, dismiss all the current noise and predictions of gloom and doom and focus on the long run, when everything will work out.

The reason this time may be different, however, is that for years, supporters of the law have always been able to argue that once the law was implemented and it was no longer a right-wing caricature, people would learn to love it. But right now it's the reality of the law that's causing support to crater. Given that the law's various elements are so inextricably linked, the low support level is likely to persist even as the immediate tech problems get resolved.

This isn't to say that the whole law is likely to get repealed. There's a long way to go to 2017 when a new president can be sworn in. But a lot more of Obamacare is likely to be in play than one might have predicted even a few months ago.

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