Much is often made of Obamacare’s inevitable impact on the presidential election in 2016, usually with dire predictions for the fate of the democratic candidate – probably Hillary Clinton – in that race. But is Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement really destined to be the albatross around Hillary’s neck? This is a deep and complex question, and a number of issues must be considered before it can be effectively answered.
To begin with, for purposes of this discussion, we’re going to disregard perhaps the most obvious factor demanding attention: The possibility that, by 2016, people just won’t care anymore. It’s true that American voters have notoriously short memories (after rather convincingly rallying against Republicans and especially George W Bush in 2006 and 2008, voters now seem poised to restore the GOP to congressional power just six short years later), but it seems unlikely that so monumental a policy as a comprehensive healthcare overhaul will simply be forgotten so soon. So what else do we need to look at?
Unarguably, the initial rollout of Obamacare was a disaster, perhaps one of the worst in recent political memory. No one can forget the notoriously troubled website on which people were asked to sign up for insurance. And of course, many will long remember Obama’s infamous promise – “If you like your plan, you can keep it” – which turned out to be flatly untrue (and apparently a naked lie, considering that the Affordable Care Act itself all but required that some people in fact would lose their insurance). This made the atmosphere difficult for the president’s effort, and called its long-term viability into serious question. The only way in which Obamacare can hope to provide for the sick is to include large numbers of the paying healthy, and with sign-up so challenging, only the most desperate – the sickest – were actually going through with it. Opinion of President Obama – an important factor for Democrats in 2016, despite the fact that Obama himself is not up for reelection – has certainly been impacted, with the president now facing a dismal 41% approval rating.
However, that bleak picture is already beginning to change. The website’s early difficulties are today a memory (if one even no Democrat would seriously attempt to defend). Spurred by easier access, total enrollment in the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges has recently surpassed 8 million, leading President Obama to encourage Democrats not only to not distance themselves from the issue but to actively campaign on it in the 2014 midterms. It is beginning to look like Obamacare may be a viable program that suffered from a turbulent start, rather than the unmitigated disaster that couldn’t even get off the ground which it originally threatened to be.
This could prove a challenge for Republicans who have made the abolition of Obamacare a key political goal, and continue to labor to ensure that it is foremost on the minds of voters in the next presidential election. The favorable news about the healthcare law certainly hasn’t impressed GOP constituents, who still oppose it overwhelmingly. But the issue is far from settled as a detriment to Hillary Clinton’s (and any other Democrat’s) run in 2016. It’s beginning to look like two years is a long time, and by then, the Democratic contender for president just might be crediting themselves for their support of Obamacare to ingratiate themselves to the voting public.