Sometimes what’s newsworthy is not what politicians say, but what they don’t say.
Like last weekend, when 19 Republican presidential hopefuls auditioned at a New Hampshire event – yet they barely mentioned Obamare. They didn’t trash-talk about a “train wreck,” or warn that the law was destroying America, or vow that they’d repeal it and thus wipe it from our consciousness.
Gee, I wonder why they were so quiescent.
Actually, there’s no need to wonder. Here’s why: Obamacare is a success. It has demolished every dystopic Republican prediction, and, at this point, five years after its passage, it would be politically nuts to campaign heavily against it.
Yes, we still get the random rhetorical blast – Ted Cruz wants to repeal “every word of Obamacare,” Marco Rubio talks about a “post-Obamacare era,” Scott Walker occasionally strokes the conservative base by mouthing the word “disaster” – but there is no sustained fervor. As Avik Roy, a conservative health care expert, told NBC News last month, “There’s a significant number of voters who are not going to take kindly to potentially messing with their health care…If Republicans are going to campaign on taking health care away from millions of people, that’s going to be a tough sell.”
Which is why they’re not trying to sell it. At last check, roughly 22 million Americans are now covered by Obamacare; half get it through the marketplaces created by the law, the rest get it via Medicaid (in the states that have agreed to expand the program with Obamacare funds). All told, the percentage of uninsured Americans has fallen 33 percent since the third quarter of 2013.
Yeah, there’s a Supreme Court ruling – King v. Burwell – due in June, and the five Republican appointees could conceivably wreck the federal marketplaces. But for Obamacare’s critics, this is a case of “be careful what you wish for.” If the court messes with millions’ health coverage, Congress will have to clean things up – and it’s noteworthy that most of the Republican talk has been about finding ways to keep those people covered, at least until the next president takes office.
More broadly, you don’t hear most Republicans talking “repeal” anymore. Their zeal for repeal has been largely snuffed, because the public isn’t interested. Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster, acknowledged this fact during a recent press breakfast in Washington: “Only 18 percent of Americans want to go back to the system we had before.” That finding dovetails with the news this week, courtesy of the Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll, that a plurality of Americans (43 percent) now say they like the health law. That’s the best showing for Obamacare since 2012.
That stat might not seem impressive – 42 percent still dislike the law – but pollsters point out that a huge share of the dissidents are seniors who don’t need Obamacare because they’re already covered by Medicare. As for those Americans who do use Obamacare, the customer satisfaction stats are off the charts. According to a Gallup poll released in March, 71 percent rated their coverage through the Obamacare exchanges as good or excellent. Another 19 percent said the coverage was fair. Only nine percent called it poor.
So much for the Republicans’ prediction that people would hate their coverage. So much for all their predictions, actually:
Republicans said that Obamacare would be plagued by spiraling costs. Wrong. In March, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office announced that, over the next ten years, the law will cost 11 percent less than what the agency had projected in January. That’s partly because health insurance premiums have risen far more slowly than projected. (Republicans had predicted huge premium spikes. Wrong again.)
Republicans said that Obamacare would be a disaster for the economy. Wrong again. Job creation in 2014 was the highest since the late ’90, and, according to a new CNN-ORC poll, 52 percent of Americans now rate the economy as “good” or “somewhat good” – the highest share since September 2007, before George W. Bush led us into recession. And optimism abounds (for a change): 60 percent expect the economy to be good a year from now.
Republicans said that health insurers would boycott the so-called “government takeover.” Wrong again. As I’ve written before, insurers have been busy expanding their Obamacare offerings, and profiting as a result – to the point where Wall Street publications are posting April headlines like this. That’s called capitalism, aka supply and demand.
We could keep doing this – Republicans said that people, especially the young, would never sign up (wrong), Republicans said that Obamacare would never meet its enrollment goals (wrong), Republicans said that the enrollees wouldn’t pay their premiums (wrong) – but you get the point. What is predictable is their refusal to confess error, or to applaud the fact that 22 million Americans have already been helped. Instead, as evidenced in New Hampshire, they just zip their lips.
Although the sound of silence is tantamount to surrender, and music to the ears.