Juan Williams: Health reform a plus for Dems, at last

Juan Williams: Health reform a plus for Dems, at last
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People with broken arms, patients recently recovered from emergency surgery — President Obama needs to put Americans benefitting from ObamaCare next to the First Lady when he makes his Jan. 20 State of the Union address.

It is time for him to go on the offensive on the Affordable Care Act. The insurance exchanges are attracting strong enrollment. And the politics of ObamaCare is shifting gears, with Republicans controlling majorities on both sides of Capitol Hill. Now, there is a new set of questions at play.

Will the new GOP majority in Congress offer any viable alternative to a healthcare reform measure that gives insurance benefits to millions of Americans who previously were uninsured?

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How will candidates for the GOP 2016 presidential nomination deal with Republican primary voters who remain reflexively opposed to anything short of outright repeal of ObamaCare?

Republican candidates have to keep in mind they will need voters in the general election — Democrats and independents — who want to keep a system that now gives them more and better health insurance. If you want to get a sense of the new politics of ObamaCare, try imagining running for president on a platform opposed to Social Security.

The bullets flying at Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerRyan delays committee assignments until 2017 Lobbying World 'Ready for Michelle' PACs urge 2020 run MORE (R-Ohio) last week from conservative firebrands trying to deny him another term as the GOP leader in the chamber targeted one big complaint: He spearheaded the omnibus spending bill that funds the government for the coming year. So that means he funded ObamaCare.

The spending bill also funded the president’s executive action on immigration reforms, but only through February. It is primarily the funding of ObamaCare that allowed rightwing talk radio and conservative firebrands such as Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) and Steve King (R-Iowa) to rally votes against Boehner. And they got the most votes in opposition to any Speaker since the Civil War.

The same anger at ObamaCare can be seen among the new Republican majority in the Senate. In a CNN interview last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellOvernight Healthcare: Hospitals plot attack against ObamaCare repeal Republicans tie Trump's Defense pick to funding fight Lawmakers haggle over funding bill as shutdown nears MORE (R-Ky.) said: “We’re certainly going to be voting on that. Either repeal or take out pieces of it, whether destroying the 40-hour work week, the medical device tax, the individual mandate — all of these are highly unpopular with the American people.”

The Senate Majority Leader promised to put bills killing all those central elements of ObamaCare “on his desk” — the president’s desk — as a show of the GOP’s continued disdain for ObamaCare. The fact that Obama is certain to veto the bills makes little difference from the GOP’s perspective.

During the last Congress, the GOP-controlled House voted more than 50 times to repeal or defund the whole, or some part, of the Affordable Care Act.

In the midterm campaigns, Republicans stirred their voters, especially in Senate races in “red” states, by lambasting ObamaCare. They waved the law like a bloody flag, offering it as the central evidence of Obama defying the will of the American people, who tell pollsters they disapprove of the legislation and its mandate for everyone to have health insurance.

It has been great political theater. But, from now on, running against healthcare reform becomes a very dangerous game.

A November Gallup poll found that 70 percent of the people who have ObamaCare are happy with the program. Even more impressive, the number of uninsured Americans has dropped by more than 25 percent in the last year. That works out to between 8 and 11 million people with coverage who had no health insurance before ObamaCare.

As The New York Times reported in October: “At its most basic level, the Affordable Care Act was intended to reduce the number of Americans without health insurance. Measured against that goal, it has made considerable progress.”

And that’s not all. As of last month, more than 3.4 million people had signed up for an insurance plan through Healthcare.gov. Of those people, the Department of Health and Human Services notes, 87 percent selected a plan offering financial assistance. That means low-to-middle income working people are coming to the plan and finding that it fits their individual and family needs.

“The evidence is now on Obama’s side,” Steve Friess, a technology writer, asserted in a Time magazine essay last month. “You think [evidence of success] is some liberal, nanny-state fever dream? It is not…conjecture; it is a statistical certainty based on all the data used by insurance carriers to set rates.”

Polls continue to show overall opposition to ObamaCare: The Real Clear Politics average is 39.2 percent in support and 51.5 in opposition. Polls also show majority support for keeping the law. Last year a Kaiser poll found 60 percent — including people who say they oppose the law — favor keeping the law as it is or improving it.

The challenge for the new GOP majority is making ObamaCare their own. But do they know it?

Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.