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POLITICS: PennAve

Obamacare victory likely short-lived for White House

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Politics,White House,Brian Hughes,Barack Obama,Obamacare,Republican Party,Democratic Party,Health Care,2014 Elections,PennAve

Democrats might want to tamp down their Obamacare celebration.

For all the jubilation over 7.1 million people selecting plans through federal and state health exchanges, the politics surrounding the central issue of the 2014 midterms remains largely unchanged, according to both Republican and Democratic insiders.

Obamacare is still more an albatross than a boon for vulnerable Democrats looking to maintain their distance from a White House that has enjoyed precious little good news of late.

And though Obama basked in exceeding an enrollment goal that appeared virtually impossible, Democrats could still get burned if they put too much stock in those figures.

“It helps stop the bleeding,” said one well-connected Democratic pollster of the Obamacare sign-ups.

“But it doesn’t fundamentally change the situation on the ground as it relates to the Affordable Care Act,” the pollster added. “I don’t think you’re going to see red-state Democrats framing Obamacare as the centerpiece of their re-election campaigns.”

The problem for progressives is that their victory lap comes with a major asterisk.

The Obama administration still has not released data on how many of the 7.1 million enrollees were uninsured, what percentage came from the youngest demographic and how many paid their first month's premium.

If the majority of sign-ups were people simply switching insurance plans, as conservatives contend — and early data suggests — then the uptick in Americans selecting an Obamacare option is unlikely to do much to keep premiums down.

Early snapshots indicated that roughly one-third of those signing up for new health plans through the marketplaces were previously uninsured.

And polling has shown that more people disapprove of the president's signature domestic initiative than support the law, raising doubts about how much trumpeting enrollments will shift public opinion.

“The White House is trying to make the exception the news,” said Republican strategist Hogan Gidley, pointing to the series of unilateral delays by the White House to mitigate blowback from unpopular provisions of the health law.

Still, Gidley warned Republicans against staking their 2014 hopes exclusively on Obamacare.

“It’s still going to be the seminal issue,” he explained. “But Republicans have to understand they need to run on new ideas, big concepts, what they’re going to do for people.”

In his most aggressive Obamacare speech in months, the president used his bully pulpit Tuesday to hammer Republicans for their repeated attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. However, the prospect of repeal is a pipe dream with Obama sitting in the Oval Office -- and the White House faces a number of problems with tradeoffs at the heart of the largest overhaul to the health care system since Medicare.

Insurers are openly pointing to premium increases in 2015, a development that would strike at the core of the president’s sales pitch, that his administration could deliver quality, affordable health care for a wide swath of Americans.

The question now becomes: How will the surge in sign-ups influence public perception of a law already battered by Obama's broken promise that Americans could keep their health plans, a terrible rollout of healthcare.gov and a series of delays that prompted charges of executive overreach?

The administration counters that the spike in enrollments will provide enough of a foundation to keep costs from spiraling out of control.

They point to the so-called risk corridors, which are intended to protect insurers in the event of higher-than-expected premiums — but Republicans see that provision as a bailout, which they’ll be more than happy to remind voters of come November.

Obama, however, is relying on an argument that has become popular in his White House, insisting that Americans won’t side with a Republican Party “on the wrong side of history.”

“Nobody remembers well those who stand in the way of America’s progress or our people,” Obama said from the Rose Garden on Tuesday.

However, some doubt whether that appeal for the history books will have much traction ahead of the midterms.

“If they can’t keep costs down," the Democratic pollster said, "nobody is going to care how many people signed up."

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Brian Hughes

White House Correspondent
The Washington Examiner