- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Despite President Obama’s proclamation of victory Tuesday for health care enrollments, Democrats face an uphill battle in midterm elections over the law, which remains unpopular with many Americans.

Nine out of 10 major polls in the past month show that Obamacare is viewed negatively by a majority of voters. It’s a prime reason that many Democratic incumbents don’t want to be seen with Mr. Obama on the campaign trail in their states.

Republicans vow to continue efforts to change or repeal the law, which they see as an issue that motivates their base.

After Mr. Obama declared in the White House Rose Garden that Obamacare is “here to stay,” a top aide to House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, called the law “fundamentally flawed.”

“Every promise the president made has been broken: health care costs are rising, not falling,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel. “Americans are losing the doctors and plans that they like, especially seniors suffering under President Obama’s Medicare cuts.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said the administration’s glowing enrollment report hides higher premiums, higher deductibles and lost jobs.

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“It is really a catastrophe for the country both for the health care providers and the consumers,” Mr. McConnell said.

With the administration’s claim that enrollments topped 7 million by Monday’s deadline, Democrats were expressing relief that they might stop taking heat on Obamacare as a campaign issue.

“Maybe it just clears the air a bit so we can have a fuller discussion on jobs,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said after emerging from a lunch with Mr. Obama at the White House. “While we’re proud of the Affordable Care Act, we now pivot to job creation. That’s a place where Republicans have been totally bankrupt.”

Obamacare still promises to be at the center of election contests. Republicans argue that the law is killing jobs, but Democrats say the Affordable Care Act creates as many as 4 million jobs.

Republicans need to win six Senate seats to regain control of the chamber. Political analyst Charlie Cook said this week that their odds “may well have tipped over to better than 50-50.”

Mr. Cook said Republicans are favored to win open seats now held by Democrats in South Dakota, West Virginia and Montana. He predicted “very tough” races for four Democratic incumbents: Sens. Mark Begich in Alaska, Mark L. Pryor in Arkansas, Mary L. Landrieu in Louisiana, and Kay R. Hagan in North Carolina.

Analysts generally believe Republicans will hold on to their majority in the House. Democrats would need to pick up 17 seats to take control of the chamber.

Democrats are showing that they would rather talk about the federal budget than Obamacare. They compared Mr. Obama’s blueprint for higher spending on education and job training to the budget presented Tuesday by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican.

“I think as we go forward, yes, we’ll talk about the Affordable Care Act,” said Mrs. Pelosi. “But the question now is the president’s budget, which is about growth and job creation.”

She said the Ryan budget “takes us backward.”

“It has a poverty of ideas that’s really stunning,” she said. “So that’s the debate that the election will be about: jobs and the budget.”

Mr. Ryan, whose budget would cut spending by $5 trillion over a decade, called it “a plan to balance the budget and create jobs.”

“It builds off a simple fact: We can’t keep spending money we don’t have,” Mr. Ryan said.

Whether Democrats can move on from Obamacare this election season, the president’s event in the Rose Garden had the feel of turning a corner. As the president hailed the enrollment success and the audience made up largely of young administration aides cheered, Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, Connecticut Democrat, rose to her feet and pumped both fists into the air like a victorious boxer.

Mr. Obama decried “those who’ve based their entire political agenda” on repealing Obamacare.

“In the end, history is not kind to those who would deny Americans their basic economic security,” the president said.

White House press secretary Jay Carney seemed to relish reciting a list of gloomy predictions about Obamacare and to contrast it with the administration’s rosy enrollment numbers.

“I could go on, and I probably will,” Mr. Carney said.

Some polling by the Kaiser Family Foundation suggests that Americans are growing weary of the health care issue. The Pew Research Center’s annual survey of policy priorities, conducted in January, found that the public’s agenda continues to be dominated by the economy, with 80 percent; jobs, with 74 percent; and terrorism, with 73 percent. Reducing health care costs was eighth on the list of priorities.

Whether the president has truly put Obamacare’s troubles behind him is open to question. He praised some health care allies by name, such as Mrs. Pelosi, but never mentioned beleaguered Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who was seated in the first row in the Rose Garden right in front of Mr. Obama.

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