Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Seem All That Scared of Obamacare

The Democratic front-runner has been fairly unreserved in her support of the Affordable Care Act.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivers a keynote address during the Watermark Silicon Valley Conference for Women on February 24, 2015 in Santa Clara, California.
National Journal
Dylan Scott
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Dylan Scott
April 12, 2015, 11:18 a.m.

Soon they’ll be call­ing it “Clin­ton­care.”

Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates will do their best to tie Hil­lary Clin­ton to Barack Obama and the more un­pop­u­lar parts of his pres­id­ency. Front and cen­ter is likely to be his sig­na­ture le­gis­lat­ive policy, the eponym­ous Obama­care, as it has been for the last three elec­tion cycles.

But Obama’s former sec­ret­ary of State doesn’t seem too wor­ried about it—quite the op­pos­ite, in fact. Clin­ton has been openly en­thu­si­ast­ic about the law in the weeks lead­ing up to her an­nounce­ment.

She singled out the con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­an budget’s re­peal of Obama­care for cri­ti­cism in March 17 com­ments on Twit­ter, Clin­ton’s pre­ferred ven­ue for of­fi­cial polit­ic­al state­ments these days.

“Our na­tion’s fu­ture—jobs & eco­nom­ic growth—de­pends on in­vest­ments made today. The GOP budget fails Amer­ic­ans on these prin­ciples,” she wrote. “Re­peal of the ACA would let in­surers write their own rules again, and wipe out cov­er­age for 16 mil­lion Amer­ic­ans.”

A few days later, on the fifth an­niversary of Obama sign­ing the law, Clin­ton was even more ex­pli­cit.

“#ACA@5: 16m covered. Young ppl. Preex­ist­ing con­di­tions. Wo­men get bet­ter cov­er­age. Re­peal those things? Em­brace them!” she wrote, tack­ing on a pic­ture of her and Obama, yes, hug­ging.

The law is, after all, the cul­min­a­tion of the dec­ades-long Demo­crat­ic quest for near-uni­ver­sal health cov­er­age, and Clin­ton, as first lady, had pre­vi­ously been the pub­lic face of the first Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion’s fail­ure to achieve it. Be­fore Obama­care, there was Hil­lary­care. With that his­tory, and the need to rally a base that re­mains very fond of the pres­id­ent, Clin­ton was nev­er likely to dis­avow the law.

But as she has stead­ily laid the found­a­tion for her can­did­acy, made of­fi­cial Sunday, Clin­ton has run to­ward the law with arms open. Last year, she urged Demo­crat­ic con­gres­sion­al can­did­ates to cam­paign on it.

“If I were a Demo­crat run­ning for reelec­tion in 2014, I would be pos­ing a very stark choice to the voters of my dis­trict, or my state,” she said last June. “If you want us to go back to the time when your sis­ter with dia­betes, or your hus­band with his heart con­di­tion, couldn’t get in­sur­ance at an af­ford­able rate, then don’t vote for me, be­cause I think it’s great that your sis­ter and your hus­band now have in­sur­ance.”

Of course, Demo­crats lost heav­ily in the midterms—though how much Obama­care was to blame, as op­posed to the his­tor­ic trend of the pres­id­ent’s party los­ing seats in their sixth year, is harder to say.

The cur­rent Su­preme Court case chal­len­ging the law, King v. Bur­well, could ser­i­ously upend the policy—as well as the polit­ics. Clin­ton hasn’t pub­licly weighed in on the case yet, in which up­ward of 8 mil­lion people could lose the ACA tax cred­its that help pay for in­sur­ance if the Court rules against the gov­ern­ment.

As is, the law re­mains per­sist­ently un­pop­u­lar, even if the en­roll­ment num­bers have giv­en the ad­min­is­tra­tion (and Clin­ton) some rhet­or­ic­al tools to de­fend it. Last month, 43 per­cent of Amer­ic­an adults said they had an un­fa­vor­able view of it, versus 41 per­cent who said they favored it, ac­cord­ing to the monthly Kais­er Fam­ily Found­a­tion poll. The num­bers have barely wavered over the last five years.

Months ago, Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, who is openly flirt­ing with a White House run, ex­plained how Re­pub­lic­ans would try to at­tach that stigma to Clin­ton.

“In 2016, when this thing falls apart and the eco­nomy is in shambles be­cause of Obama­care, I am go­ing to here­after call it ‘Clin­ton­care,’” he said in Septem­ber 2013.

At the same time, though, just 30 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans said in March that they wanted all of Obama­care re­pealed, while 46 per­cent pre­ferred to ex­pand or con­tin­ue im­ple­ment­ing the law as is.

Clin­ton al­lies hold out hope that the ACA can ac­tu­ally be a polit­ic­al as­set as soon as 2016 be­cause the law will have gone through a third en­roll­ment peri­od to boost its sign-up num­bers by Elec­tion Day

“The big driver of the change in views on gay mar­riage is people came out and people knew someone. Know­ing someone’s who’s gay is the big dif­fer­ence between sup­port­ing gay mar­riage or not, right?” Neera Tanden, pres­id­ent of the Cen­ter for Amer­ic­an Pro­gress and a long­time Clin­ton ad­viser, who hasn’t taken an of­fi­cial role in the cam­paign yet, said in Novem­ber. “If we get to 20 mil­lion people who have health care, people are go­ing to know some­body who got health care through the ex­change.”

“Two years from now,” she said, “it could be a pos­it­ive thing.”

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