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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