Dems Can’t Make Up Their Minds About ‘Obamacare’ Label

“Obamacare” vs. “Affordable Care Act” debate is still going.

Steny Hoyer holds a press conference on an extension to the payroll tax cuts being debated in congress on Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011.
National Journal
Sam Baker
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Sam Baker
Dec. 3, 2013, 11:08 a.m.

It’s been three years since Pres­id­ent Obama signed a hugely com­plic­ated health care law. One of these days, we’ll fig­ure out what to call it.

After re­ject­ing “Obama­care” as pe­jor­at­ive in 2010, Demo­crats em­braced the term in 2012. And now some of them are re­ject­ing it again.

“Yeah, I wish I hadn’t called it Obama­care be­fore be­cause that has politi­cized it, and has been used by Re­pub­lic­ans as a pe­jor­at­ive term,” House Minor­ity Whip Steny Hoy­er, D-Md., told re­port­ers Tues­day after they no­ticed he was re­fer­ring to the law only as the Af­ford­able Care Act.

Hoy­er isn’t the first Demo­crat to re­verse course on the O-word. House Demo­crat­ic Lead­er Nancy Pelosi, D-Cal­if., cor­rec­ted Dav­id Gregory dur­ing a re­cent Meet the Press ap­pear­ance when he called the law “Obama­care,” in­sist­ing that it’s the Af­ford­able Care Act.

The Demo­crat­ic Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee, on the oth­er hand, is still high­light­ing a “This Is Obama­care” fea­ture at the top of its web­site. And good luck un-see­ing all those “I (Heart) Obama­care” bump­er stick­ers from the 2012 cam­paign.

The pres­id­ent him­self made a point of us­ing the term dur­ing the 2012 cam­paign. He used it again dur­ing a speech Tues­day, al­though he es­chewed “Obama­care” in his last pub­lic re­marks about the law and his ad­min­is­tra­tion re­portedly switched to Af­ford­able Care Act in its talk­ing points to sur­rog­ates.

“Obama­care” did be­gin as a neg­at­ive la­bel used only by Re­pub­lic­ans. Lib­er­al Demo­crats, though, pushed the White House to em­brace it, ar­guing that the term wasn’t go­ing any­where so Obama might as well own it. It gained wide­spread ac­cept­ance in large part simply be­cause Demo­crats were us­ing it all the time in off-the-cuff com­ments. But amid the troubled rol­lout of Health­Care.gov and the Demo­crat­ic ef­fort to frame health in­sur­ance as a per­son­al is­sue rather than a polit­ic­al one, the term is fall­ing out of fa­vor again. “The Af­ford­able Care Act” polls slightly bet­ter than “Obama­care,” even though they are the same thing.

Hoy­er told re­port­ers Tues­day he agrees with Obama’s as­sess­ment: Re­pub­lic­ans will call it “Obama­care” un­less and un­til people start to like it. He drew an ana­logy to the dra­mat­ic foot­ball game Sat­urday night in which Au­burn Uni­versity pulled off a last-second win over Alabama.

“Every­one was talk­ing about the Alabama game—right up un­til Au­burn won. That’s your an­swer,” he said.

Elahe Izad contributed to this article.
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