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A.B. Stoddard: Empty talk from Obama

With all eyes on the continuing saga of the ObamaCare rollout, it’s easy to lose track of the fact that the administration is publicly contemplating a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan, which would leave it to become again the lawless, fertile ground for terrorists it was before we launched our longest ever war there in 2001. Many Americans also might not notice, in between updates about how HealthCare.gov’s “back end” problems mean you can “shop” for coverage despite the fact that the insurance companies can’t cover anyone yet because they aren’t being paid, that though the administration might want a deal with Iran, there remains strong bipartisan opposition to what the White House has offered the Iranians — and a push for stronger sanctions is gaining steam.

President Obama has lost the trust of the American people who believed him when he said the insured who liked their healthcare policies could keep them. He has also seen an erosion in the credibility and trust he once enjoyed with our allies overseas, as China takes over new air space, Afghan President Hamid Karzai balks under an end-of-year deadline to sign a Status of Forces Agreement for 2014, and the Iranians pressure the Afghans to reject a deal but simultaneously agree to one with us that terrifies our ally Israel, as well Democratic and Republican lawmakers in the United States.

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Obama spoke at the White House on Tuesday, declaring that Republicans could help improve the Affordable Care Act if they wanted to, but the reform law would not be repealed while he is president. Standing behind him were people who, as of yet, had NOT bought healthcare policies under the ACA. He is correct that once you provide the guarantee of coverage and end a ban on preexisting conditions for the purchase of health insurance, you don’t take that away. He has pledged to “rebrand” the program now, and will be holding daily events to tout its benefits in hopes that in less than three weeks, an adequate number of people will have signed up, by Dec. 23, for insurance to kick in on Jan. 1.

Indeed, substantial enrollment would ease worries of an insurance price “death spiral” in which the sick outnumber the healthy by more than 3-1, the administration’s current estimate for risk balance necessary to sustain ObamaCare. Yet once the website works and actually has a function that pays the insurance companies, customers have to like what they buy. There are still too many reports of higher premiums, combined with higher deductibles, making the out-of-pocket costs of the ACA far less than affordable.

Obama spoke again a day later, this time about the growing inequality gap, how the ACA could help Americans with falling wages and why the minimum wage must be increased. It is a glimpse of the theme of the State of the Union address he will give at the end of January. But until people can actually buy healthcare policies, insurance companies can be repaid for subsidies promised by the government for that coverage, and enough people have filled the exchanges to keep prices affordable, Obama’s talk isn’t likely to change the way Americans feel about ObamaCare, and they aren’t likely to care what he has to say about inequality.

“Talking” to the Iranians won’t get much done either, if he can’t sell a deal at home, even in his own party. Talks with Afghan leaders are going nowhere. With Americans disapproving of Obama’s handling of foreign policy by 56 percent to 34 percent, according to a Pew poll, and of his handling of the economy by 60 percent, according to CBS News, the question might be how many people are still listening.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.