Vice President Joseph R. Biden vowed Monday that Obamacare eventually will be a success, but added a crucial qualifier: "God willing."
Mr. Biden, widely rumored to be mulling his own White House run in 2016, has good reason to call for divine intervention in turning around what has been a disastrous rollout of the Affordable Care Act. His political ambitions will be tied directly to the law he once called a "big [expletive] deal": Its success would give the vice president a key selling point; its failure would weigh down and possibly sink his campaign.
Mr. Biden isn't the only Democratic presidential hopeful saddled with the politically delicate task of figuring out how to handle Obamacare's rocky start.
Governors such as New York's Andrew Cuomo and Maryland's Martin O'Malley, thought to be considering presidential bids, have not decided whether they will embrace the president's "fix" — a one-year reprieve for Americans whose insurance policies are being canceled.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat and a favorite among liberals who are urging her to run in 2016, recently came out in support of the president's fix. But she also is backing the Obamacare feature that is causing the cancellations and/or requiring people in the individual insurance market to pay more for policies — regulations that require insurance plans to meet certain coverage and generosity standards established by the federal government.
The 2016 Democratic favorite, Hillary Rodham Clinton, largely has been mum on the health care law, but her husband has thrust her into the issue by calling on Mr. Obama to keep his promise and allow Americans to keep their insurance if they like it.
Former President Bill Clinton's words came at an inopportune time for Mr. Obama, who last week had to address the nation and acknowledge that his infamous "if you like your plan, you can keep your plan" pledge wasn't true.
For the Clintons, Mr. Obama's success in pushing through health care reform, despite its many problems, also is a reminder of their own failure in the early 1990s. The Clintons' reform effort, dubbed Hillarycare, eventually collapsed amid strong opposition from Republicans, the insurance industry and others.
But for Mrs. Clinton and others who may mount a presidential run, analysts say, Obamacare could be in the rear-view mirror by the time party primary debates begin in 2015, assuming the law's trajectory is turned around — and fast.
If the election were held next year rather than in 2016, Mr. Biden, Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Cuomo and other candidates would be using the issue to attack one another and explain why they would have handled health care reform better than the current commander in chief, said Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire who specializes in presidential politics.
"By 2015, we'll be a couple of years into this. The overall results of the Affordable Care Act would have to be as horrendous as this rollout has been for it to be an issue," he said Monday.
"Let's assume things get better from here as far as Obamacare goes — and that's a fair question to ask — but assume it goes better from here. I think Democrats, as a whole, will have had their fill of the health care debate. They're going to be interested in saying that it's settled, let's improve it and move on to other things. They're not going to want to relitigate it," he said.
But Democrats with presidential ambitions can't keep silent for the next two years in the hopes that Obamacare — and its troubled website, HealthCare.gov — gains traction.
With the exception of Mrs. Clinton, potential contenders must make decisions and take positions now.
In Maryland, Mr. O'Malley's administration is weighing whether to adopt the president's fix or buck the administration and allow people to be booted off of their insurance plans.
"The president's announcement presents a number of complex issues," the state's insurance administration said in a statement, adding that Maryland officials will meet with insurance companies and other parties to determine the best path forward.
New York's Department of Financial Services, which oversees health insurance, didn't respond to requests for comment Monday, but officials in the Empire State also reportedly haven't made a decision.
Mrs. Warren — a first-term senator who quickly has become a progressive hero — is standing with the president and has defended the administration's proposed fix.
"They're trying to make the transition work. They're trying to do everything they can to make it work and get people into the system," she said last week after the president announced his proposed changes.
If health care reform does become a major issue in the Democratic primary, it likely would focus more on the management issues related to the website launch and other problems with implementation, rather the underlying goals of Obamacare, on which the potential candidates largely agree.
"I don't think it'll be a high-profile issue in which the debate moderators are trying to draw clear distinctions between one candidate and another, simply because I don't believe there are clear distinctions to be had," Mr. Scala said.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.