How big a liability has the controversy over Americans keeping their insurance under the Affordable Health Care Act become? It has become so big due to President Barack Obama’s repeated assurances that Americans could keep their doctors and insurance that the Democratic Party’s voice of political truth and pragmatism has chimed in — in a big way. President Bill Clinton, aka, “Big Dog,” has offered some unsolicited public advice that surely reflects his political calculations plus feedback he’s getting from concerned Democratic politicians and the public. He says Obama should honor his commitment he made to voters even if it takes a change in the law.
Of course how there could be any change in the law with the current Republican House is another question. But Clinton is, here in his role of what The Politico calls “Obama’s critic-in-chief”:
President Bill Clinton — the man President Barack Obama once dubbed his “Secretary of Explaining Stuff” — once again has some explaining of his own to do with the Obama White House.
In an interview released Tuesday, Clinton called for a fix to the Affordable Care Act that would put an end to the wave of insurance cancellations that have been a public relations disaster for the White House and prompted Obama to apologize last week for having repeatedly assured Americans that they could keep their insurance if they liked it.
Clinton’s endorsement of legislation to address the cancellation issue again put the former president in a place Obama had refused to go — a familiar spot for the Oval Office’s current occupant.
On issues ranging from the debt ceiling fight to Syria to rhetoric towards the rich, Clinton has parted company with the White House party line — often at crucial times that leave the current president in a tough spot and exacerbate tensions that date back to the 2008 campaign.
“I personally believe, even if it takes a change to the law, the president should honor the commitment the federal government made to those people and let them keep what they got,” Clinton said during a discussion of Obamacare problems in an interview with Carlos Watson on the web site Ozymandias. The former president did defend the overall impact of the law — but in backing the idea of changing it to address canceled health policies, he got on board with an approach Obama has yet to embrace.
A slew of press accounts and books have noted the prickly relationship over the years between Obama and Clinton, which was put on hold during the 2012 election when Bill Clinton became one of the effective spokesmen and campaigners for the White House. So the White House is careful how they respond:
At Tuesday’s press briefing, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney downplayed the notion of any disagreement between Clinton and Obama — telling reporters the former president was still Obamacare’s “explainer-in-chief. However, the spokesman carefully sidestepped the question of whether the two men share views on possible solutions.
“You’ve heard the president address this very issue,” Carney said, pointing to Obama’s comment to NBC last week that he was working “to make sure that nobody is put in a position where their plan’s been cancelled [and] they can’t afford a better plan, even though they’d like to have a better plan.”
However, Carney would not commit to any particular legislative option or even say that legislation of some sort was necessary.
And, if it was proposed, realistically, could it pass the existing Congress?
All of this comes on a day of yet more bad news for the White House: The Washington Post reports that only 40,000 Americans have signed up for Obamacare putting in the ranks of the Ford Edsel and New Coke fiascos as a lemon — although that number is sure to change once the website is fixed. The law can’t be written off yet but it’s off to a disastrous start:
Roughly 40,000 Americans have signed up for private insurance through the flawed federal online insurance marketplace since it opened six weeks ago, according to two people with access to the figures.
That amount is a tiny fraction of the total projected enrollment for the 36 states where the federal government is running the online health-care exchange, indicating the slow start to the president’s initiative. The first concrete evidence of the popularity — and accessibility — of the new federal insurance exchange emerged as the White House has been preparing to release this week the first official tally of how many people have chosen coverage using the Web site, HealthCare.gov.
One administration official said Monday that the official figure will include people who have paid for a health plan and those who simply picked a plan and put it in their online shopping cart.
The administration’s only known previous projections come from internal memos, released on Capitol Hill, that predicted that about a half-million Americans would have selected insurance by the end of October. It was unclear whether that figure, cited in a letter last month by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), included only people who enrolled in private health plans or also low-income people who joined Medicaid.
The figure of 40,000 disclosed Monday did not include Medicaid sign-ups. At least 440,000 people have signed up for Medicaid through the health-care initiative, according to Avalere Health, a consulting firm that has been tracking sign-ups. Budget forecasters have projected that in 2014 there will be a much more even balance between private insurance and Medicaid participants.
In recent days, officials inside the White House and at the Department of Health and Human Services have been working to dampen public expectations for enrollment, in light of a rollout of the online marketplace that they have acknowledged has been disastrous.
Three problems with what’s going on now: 1)America’s health care problem at this point is nowheresville, at least until the website is fixed, 2)it’s a political football with the GOP using any weakness to try to discredit the law and weaken it anyway it can, 3)apart from Obama’s legacy it is draining his already sagging political clout.
Clinton’s criticism likely reflects the unspoken sentiment of many Democratic politicos with whom he’s in touch.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.