President Obama takes health care victory lap

BY Terence Burlij and Domenico Montanaro  April 1, 2014 at 5:59 PM EST

It’s a scene few would have predicted six months ago.

President Barack Obama stood in the Rose Garden Tuesday afternoon, basking in the glow of the April sunshine and the welcome news that the Affordable Care Act surpassed 7 million enrollments before the March 31 deadline.

“No, the Affordable Care Act hasn’t fixed our long-broken health care system, but this law has made our broken system a lot better,” the president said, touting 7.1 million sign ups despite the rocky rollout of the health care website in October of last year.

House Speaker John Boehner said Monday that Republicans would “continue to work to repeal this law and protect families and small businesses from its harmful consequences.” And on the same day House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan unveiled a budget that would repeal the law, Mr. Obama rejected that strategy.

“The debate over repealing this law is over,” the president insisted. “The Affordable Care Act is here to stay.”

Mr. Obama, who struck a triumphant and aggressive tone, said opponents of the law “who have based their entire political agenda on repealing it” must explain why they want to do away with a policy that is helping so many Americans.

Mr. Obama chided opponents of the law as telling “tall tales” that have been debunked.

“There are still no death panels,” he said. “Armageddon has not arrived. Instead, this law is helping millions of Americans, and in the coming years, it’ll help millions more.”

Ahead of the speech the top Republican in the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who is up for reelection this year, called the law “a catastrophe for the country.”

“We don’t know how many have paid,” McConnell added. “What we do know is that all across the country, our constituents are having an unpleasant interaction with ‘Obamacare.’”

That’s despite the health exchange in McConnell’s home state being heralded as one of the more successful state exchanges in the country.

Republicans are also pointing to a soon-to-be-published study from RAND that claims two-thirds of the sign-ups were from people, who previously had health insurance, but then lost it because of the law’s requirements.

The administration does not outright reject the numbers, but one official pushed back, pointing out that the rate of uninsured dropped significantly between the last quarter of 2013 and the first quarter of this year, and that “plans in marketplace have consumer protections and quality coverage,” unlike the catastrophic plans many of the previously insured were on.

Neither the insurance industry nor the administration has yet provided official figures on what percentage of those enrolled were previously uninsured. And, as noted, the RAND study itself has not been published publicly yet, either.

The president’s victory lap comes as the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll released Monday found Americans feeling more positively toward the law, with 49 percent in favor and 48 percent opposed.

Most recent surveys have shown a less rosy picture. But Democrats hope that other surveys begin to reflect similar findings and would improve their political standing ahead of the November midterm elections.

Still, Mr. Obama noted of Democrats who worked hard to pass the law, some of whom have suffered politically, “They should be proud of what they’ve done. They should be proud of what they’ve done.”