Obama will avoid healthcare defense during court review

President Obama will not mark the two-year anniversary of his signing of the healthcare law — which takes place days before the Supreme Court offers a decision on the constitutionality of his signature legislative achievement.

Senior administration officials said on Tuesday that Obama will not be offering a vigorous public defense of the law, holding events or even making public remarks in the lead-up to the Supreme Court case.

Obama will instead leave arguments to the Justice Department, which begins defending the law on Monday.  Likewise, Obama is not expected to hold an event around the two-year anniversary on Friday, said officials who labeled it a faux milestone and off the radar of most Americans.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday the administration was not focused “on discussing anniversaries, particularly, although I’m sure others will want to discuss this.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Some observers say it’s a missed opportunity for the White House.

“It’s a little surprising that they’re not trying to get more out of it,” said Martin Sweet, an assistant professor of political science at Northwestern University. “They could go out to the American people, explain what’s happening and set themselves up for whatever happens.

“They might be a little worried about the backlash,” Sweet said, adding that he thinks it is a miscalculation.

To be sure, Obama continues to tout the law, including through the recent 17-minute advertisement produced by Obama’s reelection campaign, which refers to the production as a film. In it, the president speaks about his mother’s battle with cancer and seeks to explain what led him to pursue healthcare reform.

At a fundraiser for his reelection campaign last week in Atlanta, Obama went as far as poking fun at the Republican name for the law: ObamaCare.

“You want to call it ObamaCare, that’s OK, because I do care,” Obama said to applause. “That’s why we passed it … because I care about folks who were going bankrupt because they were getting sick. And I care about children who have pre-existing conditions and their families couldn’t get them any kind of insurance.

“And so now we’ve got reforms that will ensure that in this great country of ours, you won’t have to mortgage your house just because you get sick,” Obama said.

During his speech, Obama aimed to break down the specifics of the law, something the administration has sought to do repeatedly since the bill’s passage.

“Insurance can’t just deny you coverage or drop your coverage at a time when you need it most,” he said. “Seniors are seeing more help when it comes to their prescription drugs and preventative care. That’s what change is.”

While the White House has no formal plans to mark the law’s anniversary, the Obama campaign will be engaging supporters in the next month to mark the occasion and “talk about how health reform has already changed lives for the better,” a campaign official said. The campaign effort will include mail, field and online outreach.

In New Hampshire, for example, the campaign held more than a half-dozen healthcare phone banks last week, the official said.

But as far as Obama himself is concerned, Carney implied this week that the president was looking ahead and moving away from past squabbles. 

Carney said Obama has the economy and job creation on his mind.

“The president does speak about healthcare on occasion and will continue to do that,” Carney told reporters on Monday. “But he’s focused on a forward agenda right now, and working with Congress and doing the things he can through executive action to grow the economy and create jobs.

Carney said the administration is “very focused” on the implementation of the law “so that more and more Americans see the benefits that it brings.

But a new ABC/Washington Post poll found that Americans oppose the healthcare law 52 percent to 41. The poll also found that a total of 67 percent said the mandate or the whole law should be thrown out.

Meanwhile, Republicans seem to be fanning the flames.

“If the president is so proud of his signature policy initiative he should own it and continue campaigning on it,” said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. “Instead, the White House is attempting to distance themselves from the president’s namesake because it’s clear Americans believe ObamaCare is making healthcare worse instead of better.”

At the same time, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who will likely oppose Obama in the general election, promised that if he is elected, he will repeal the healthcare law when he takes office.

“This president believes that federal bureaucrats can do a better job than you can deciding what should be in your insurance policy, and ultimately what kind of care you should receive,” Romney said on Sunday.

But headed into the general election facing high unemployment and a spike in gas prices, Obama might have bigger fish to fry, at the moment, than healthcare.

“There are places where healthcare is going to be a big deal, but the bigger deal will be unemployment,” Sweet said. “If unemployment happens to increase to 9.2 percent, that’s a much bigger problem for Obama.”