Going into the 2014 election Democrats are again grappling with the unpopularity of “Obamacare” and trying to decide if they should embrace it or try to hide from it. To a large degree though much of the party has coalesced around a message like “mend it, don’t end it” or “fix it, don’t nix it.”
Politically they are hoping to thread the needle seen in polling. While the law remains very unpopular, a majority oppose simply repealing it. Most like the idea of everyone getting health insurance, but they want a better law or significant improved Affordable Care Act.
The problem is the message doesn’t work unless you actually offer a clear “fix.” So I simply haven’t heard one being put forward by the party leadership, only a few random bills from individual members. Can anyone name the official Democratic proposal to fix the ACA? I haven’t seen one from the White House and Harry Reid definitely hasn’t brought a comprehensive “fix it” package to the floor.
When regular people say they want the law improved they aren’t simply referring to better administration of the website, correcting a few drafting errors and a couple delays to give individuals more time to adjust; but that appears to be the entirety of the Democrats’ so-called “mend it” plan.
Democrats have trapped themselves in a messaging dead zone. They seem afraid to criticize the laws’ big flaws because that could make it even less popular, but they can’t credibly talk about “fixing it” unless they first point out the problems that need fixing. All they have is this hollow poll-driven phrase with no substance behind it.
A “fix it” plan could be something like nationalized Medicaid so all poor Americans have access, eliminating the subsidy cliff, and a better employer mandate. Three big easy-to-explain points directed at clear flaws. It all fits on a post-it note.
If Democrats are going to campaign on keeping but “fixing” Obamacare they need to actually start talking about improvements — but that requires being honest about its shortcomings. You can’t run on fixing something without an actual fix.
Photo by SEIU International Under Creative Commons License