They have only themselves to blame.
Few laws in the past few decades have been as controversial or as messy to pass as the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. In fact, the Democrats did almost everything wrong in the early stages of the legislation, ranging from being unable to articulate the value of universal health care to Americans, giving in to pressure from insurance lobbies, and making backroom deals that backfired, to finally having to ram the law through Congress in a way that cost them serious political capital on other fronts. On top of it, a majority of Americans still do not fully understand how Obamacare will work, or even like the law.
And yet, here we are. This week, Obamacare exchanges were rolled out throughout the nation and an estimated 2.8 million people visited HealthCare.gov, the federal web marketplace for the ACA, on its first day. Despite the public's suspicion of the law and despite the fact that the website experienced technical glitches throughout the day, making it difficult for some people to get information and requiring others to spend several hours on enrollment forms, Americans were at least curious about their options and willing to give Obamacare a closer look.
The glitches are par for the course and in due time will disappear. A landmark law like the ACA is bound to be complicated to execute and it will take some time before things are running smoothly. That will cause some frustration for the public in the short term but the chance to secure cheap health care will be simply too irresistible for the majority of people to turn away. Obamacare will find its rhythm, and while it will not be perfect, it will certainly work a lot better for most Americans than the system we have now -- especially for the 47 million people who cannot either afford insurance or get it at any price. Not to mention that when the employer mandate kicks in after being delayed for a year, it will help workers across the board. Yes, some companies may pay the fine instead of offering health care to their employees, but that too is an unnecessarily cynical assumption.
But the factor that will count most heavily in favor of making Obamacare a success is Republican opposition to it, and more specifically, their fatal political miscalculation in making the law the centerpiece of their budget battle with the Democrats. By holding the law hostage in their political game, the GOP has inadvertently given it a level of importance and even nobility that it lacked before. As polls show, six in ten Americans oppose the idea of using Obamacare as a bargaining chip in budget negotiations, and now, in shutting down the federal government, the Republicans have generated even more sympathy for the president and -- by extension -- his signature law.
The funny thing is that had the Republicans simply let Obamacare play out in its own way, instead of trying to defund, delay, and sabotage it, they may actually have been able to score political points on its back in the future. The reason for this are the above-mentioned glitches in Obamacare (and not just the website), that by themselves may have turned people off and become powerful ammunition for the GOP in the 2014 midterm elections and the 2016 presidential race, giving them a perfect "I told you so" moment.
Instead, the ACA has now become an albatross around the Republicans' necks, and a surefire way for them to lose this budget battle, and near-term elections. By putting such a spotlight on the law and by attacking something that is no longer legislation but the law of the land, they have done nothing but lost the public's goodwill, created intense curiosity for Obamacare, and given people a reason to be patient with the rollout of the law.
As political gambits go, it really does not get more amateurish than this. What is happening now is great for Obamacare, and terrible for the Republicans.
SANJAY SANGHOEE is a political and business commentator. He has worked at leading investment banks Lazard Freres and Dresdner, as well as at multi-billion dollar hedge fund Ramius. He has appeared on CNBC's 'Closing Bell', TheStreet.com, and HuffPost Live on business topics, and is the author of two thriller novels. For more information, please visit www.sanghoee.com
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