The new budget proposals from House and Senate Republicans are a joke. How bad a joke? Both would repeal Obamacare, yet both count on collecting $1 trillion over 10 years in Obamacare taxes -- all of which, by the way, would be paid by upper-income earners. Maya MacGuineas, who heads the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, lamented that the Republican plan relies on "details [that] are in some ways unrealistic and unspecified" and contains "several budget gimmicks that circumvent budget discipline and artificially reduce the size of the deficit on paper." Less kindly, there's the way Dana Milbank put it: "[T]he [House] budget does not rely on gimmicks. The budget is a gimmick." Finally, a "very, very angry" Paul Krugman condemned the House and Senate plans as "an enormous, destructive con job."
Whether one calls it a gimmick, a joke, or a dagger aimed at the heart of any American whose house lacks a car elevator, the Republican budget plans -- which will include a repeal of the president's healthcare reform law -- offer a serious opportunity for Democrats, if they take advantage of it. Imagine the following event televised from the White House lawn: President Obama is surrounded by smiling citizens -- all of whom are grateful that Obamacare allowed them to get health insurance -- and they cheer as he vetoes the Republican attempt to take it away from them. Multiply that by 16.4 million -- the number of previously uninsured Americans who got coverage thanks to the Affordable Care Act -- and you've got a population that will be highly motivated to get out and vote in order to keep it.
For a visual representation of just what the Affordable Care Act has done, the chart below shows the percentage of Americans without health insurance over time. More than one third of all the people without coverage have gained it since the law came into effect, and that trend is likely to continue -- so long as the law stays in effect. Bear in mind that even more people are gaining coverage in the states that accepted the federally funded Medicaid expansion while the rest of the states said, "Nah, we'd rather not have that money, even though we're paying into the Obamacare pot."
Significantly increasing the percentage of Americans with health insurance is not the only measure by which Obamacare is a real success. It has also reduced healthcare inflation to the lowest rate since, well, since we've been measuring it. It has also reduced hospital errors to the tune of 50,000 lives saved just between 2010 and 2013, and increased competition among health insurance companies. Additionally, the law has accomplished all these things for less money than the government originally projected. Finally, Republicans have grown very upset because the White House keeps talking about the law's successes, so there's another one right there.
Oh, and remember the Republican talk about millions of people who had their insurance canceled because of Obamacare? That talk didn't stand up to an actual fact check, and the most recent analysis confirms that the trend has tapered off even further. Republicans were also wrong in predicting that the law would kill the economy and the job market, as well as about a host of other Obamacare-related matters. I know you all are shocked (shocked, I tell you!) that they might mislead or even lie to the American people. Please do your best to stay composed.
But while Republicans have lied about Obamacare, too many Democrats have just been downright stupid about it. This past December we had U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) saying that although Obamacare was a "good bill" and he's "proud" to have supported it, it nonetheless contributed to election losses in 2010 because, somehow, it was the right law at the wrong time.
Let's clear something up right now. Going forward, Obamacare is going to help, not hurt, at the polls because it is helping the American people. As more and more of us benefit from it, we are going to see the law better and better. More Americans want to keep or expand Obamacare than repeal it or scale it back, by a margin of 46 percent to 40 percent in Kaiser's most recent poll, done this month.
The people who hate Obamacare are people who hate Democrats and the president anyway, and nothing that they learn about the law is going to change that. But the people who would lose coverage if Republicans repeal Obamacare are largely lower-income voters, people whom the Democratic Party should be able to reach. For those who currently do not lean Democratic, one would hope that the threat of losing coverage would wake them up to the reality of which party better supports their interests (and although Democrats could do much more, they are clearly better than the GOP on that front). For those who are already Democratic but may not always go out and vote, one would hope that the threat of losing coverage would get them out to the polls in higher numbers. It may not be idealistic to say so, but fear is a powerful motivator in politics. The fear of Obamacare repeal is a legitimate one.
And that brings us back to the Republican budget proposals. Nothing will focus the attention of the millions of Americans who benefit from Obamacare like a news flash that Congress has voted to take it away and a Democratic president is the only thing stopping them. Congressional Republicans have no choice but to push repeal because, as on so many other issues, most of them have more to fear from a primary opponent challenging them from the right than they do a general election opponent. Or at least they think that's the case.
More broadly, even those of us who had coverage before 2010 and continue to have it now still benefit from Obamacare -- whether or not we use the health insurance exchanges created by the law -- because of the peace of mind it offers. We know we won't lose coverage just because we lose a job. We know a preexisting condition won't prevent us from getting new coverage. This law is going to be a political winner going forward. It is also the single biggest achievement in terms of domestic policy since Medicare and Medicaid.
The 2014 midterms should have, finally, taught Democrats that running away from their party's accomplishments and its progressive ideals doesn't work. They need to stand up for those things, and contrast them with the failed policies and elitist ideals of their opponents. Obamacare repeal offers them a perfect opportunity to do so.