By Bill Boyarsky
Conservative super PACs, along with Republican presidential and congressional candidates, are aiming at President Barack Obama’s health care reform, figuring that “Obamacare” and the program’s shaky support will be a deadly weapon against Democrats facing a difficult election year.
If you add these attacks to Obama’s other obstacles—a weak economy, the deep disillusionment of his 2008 progressive base, the Afghanistan war and high gas prices—it’s conceivable that the nation might as well prepare a White House welcome mat for Mitt Romney, the man who invented Obamacare (Romneycare) and now campaigns against it. Or for Rick Santorum or even Newt Gingrich. The thought of this happening is chilling.
An example of the anti-health care reform effort is the campaign by the right-wing FreedomWorks for America, part of a conglomerate of tea party-oriented FreedomWorks organizations headed by former House Republican leader Dick Armey. It joins several other conservative advocacy groups opposing reform, some planning to rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court building on March 27. That’s the second day of oral arguments in the case that will decide whether the health reform law stands, is declared unconstitutional, or something in between.
“We’ll pull out all the stops—grass-roots rallies, targeted direct mail, a massive online advertising campaign, media appearances, congressional office visits, the whole nine yards,” said a fundraising letter signed by Steve Forbes, conservative presidential candidate in 1996 and 2000, editor in chief of the business magazine Forbes and vice chairman of the affiliated FreedomWorks Foundation.
The FreedomWorks operation ranks fourth in the list of big spending organizations, with expenditures of $1.4 million, according to OpenSecrets.org, part of the Center for Responsive Politics.
FreedomWorks is so extreme that it has spent $594,100 in a campaign to deny the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Utah to the conservative incumbent, Orrin Hatch, OpenSecrets reported.
Such super PACS and their ability to collect and spend unlimited amounts of money grew out of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. They are a powerful force in this year’s election. The Washington Post and Businessweek reported that super PACs financed more than 90 percent of the advertising for Republican candidates in the Alabama and Mississippi primaries.
It’s uncertain whether the Democrats can effectively respond.
Health care reform—officially the Affordable Health Care for America Act—has always reflected what’s right and what’s wrong with the Obama administration.
On the plus side, there are the act’s accomplishments. Like Medicare, it has been unappreciated in the early going, but has the potential of improving the lives of many millions. The act aims to create a huge expansion of health care for a country that trails other industrialized nations. It now permits children under 26 to be covered by their parents’ health insurance, bans insurance companies from denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions and makes other improvements. Eventually, it will extend coverage to 50 million more Americans and assure that they will not be denied insurance if they can’t afford it and bring many more of the working poor under Medicaid.
On the minus side, the Affordable Health Care for America Act was a compromise, as was much of what has been done by the Obama administration—a compromise that angered some of the president’s strongest progressive supporters. Obama did not, as they hoped, fight for something resembling Medicare for all. And he did not fight for government plans that would compete with private companies and keep prices down.
Another serious problem is that the plan is incredibly complicated, the work of health care experts who massage every detail into language only they can understand. From the moment it was revealed, the Obama administration failed to sell the plan to the public or even adequately explain it. Once the program became law, the administration put the details on a website that requires too much maneuvering. It was almost as if Obama and his people were ashamed of the act and were trying to keep it in the closet.
Their success in hiding the measure is indicated by a Kaiser Family Foundation poll showing that only 58 percent of those surveyed were aware that the health care law is actually on the books as a real law.
That poll and one taken by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, both in March, showed Americans sharply divided over the law. Pew found that 47 percent approve of the law while 45 percent disapprove. Democrats overwhelmingly approve, 76 percent to 17 percent, while Republicans disapprove 84 percent to 11 percent. Independents are divided: 44 percent in favor, 47 percent opposed.
Perhaps those numbers have awakened the administration. It’s about time. Robert Pear reported in The New York Times that the White House has begun “an aggressive campaign” to sell the law: “For months, Democrats in Congress and progressive groups have urged the White House to make a forceful defense of the health care law, which is denounced almost daily by Republican lawmakers and presidential candidates,” in addition to the attacks financed by FreedomWorks and the other super PACs.
It would be ironic if President Obama was brought down by his most noteworthy domestic accomplishment.
AP / David Goldman
Romneycare? What Romneycare?: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney puts his hands together at a campaign event on Jan. 6 in Conway, S.C.