The One Way to Save Obamacare

I spent some years of my life being paid to give political advice.  My advice, like nearly everyone else’s, was accepted some times and not others; when it was accepted, it was successful some times and not others.  And when they stopped paying me, I stopped giving advice.

Today, however, as I contemplate the possible loss of the U. S. Senate to Republican control, I feel the need to give some advice.  Michael, Harry, and Barack…listen up!

You know who Barack is, of course.  I think he ought to be concerned because his legacy is at Obamacare 3stake.  He wanted his legacy to be the achievement of a new and glorious era of nonpartisan or bipartisan or post-partisan political cooperation.  We all know that didn’t happen and some of us feel it could not have happened.  Even as a hope, it was unrealistic.  Of course, electing a young and little-known black man to the presidency of the United States didn’t seem all that realistic either, at the beginning, so I think we can all be forgiven for hoping too much.

Still, when the Republicans made the decision that utter intransigence was their ticket back to power, that dream died quickly.  I don’t claim that Sen. McConnell, of Kentucky, was a large part of that Republican intransigence, but it is his expression of it that I remember best.  Sen. McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate, said that his number one legislative priority was to insure that Barack Obama was a one-term president.  That was what he wanted to do as a Senator!

President Obama persisted and with some dazzling cooperation from Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, and President of the Senate, Harry Reid, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was passed: Obamacare.  That is his legacy issue.  And why is control of the Senate such a fraught issue?  Because without it, President Obama is all that stands in the way of a full roll-back of the greatest contribution he has made to his country.  Nobody thinks the House of Representatives is going to pick up enough Democrats to regain majority control.  That would require that the current 207 Democratic members of the House are all re-elected and that ten more Democrats be added—all this in an off-year election when the party holding the White House ordinarily loses seats.

Obamacare 1That brings us to the U. S. Senate, which brings us to Harry Reid, the President of the Senate.  If he wants to continue to be President of the Senate, he needs to get the votes of 51 senators—one of them could be Vice President Joe Biden if the Senate divided 50/50, but no one wants that.  We are going to do some seat counting now and when you do that, you have to trust someone.  I’m putting my money on Larry Sabato.  You can find him at and see his “Crystal Ball” for yourself. According to Sabato, Republicans currently “have” 49 seats, if you count as “Republican” all the states that are safely R, that are “likely R” and that “lean R.”  The Democrats currently “have” 48 seats if you count all the states that are safely D, that are “likely D,” and that “lean D.”  The remaining three are called “toss-up” states[1].  If the Democrats win all three, Harry Reid gets to continue to be President of the Senate.

And whose job is it to deliver those three seats to Democratic control?  Michael Bennett of Obamacare 4Colorado.  Sen. Bennett is Chair of the DSCC—the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.  He takes over from Patty Murray of Washington, who dumbfounded observers by keeping the Senate Democratic during her year as Chair of the DSCC in 2012.  It is his job to elect Democratic Senators to those three states.  The three states are Alaska, Louisiana, and North Carolina.  They are the “toss-up” states this year.

So here’s my advice to Barack, Harry, and Michael.  This is, contrary to my history, unsolicited and uncompensated advice.  Flood those states with recipients of Obamacare.  Establish special phone lines.  Send volunteers to their doors.  Give them a ride to the offices where they may sign up in person.  Turn the justly famous “Obama ground game” loose on people who could, if the Democrats keep their eye on the ball, be enthusiastic Obamacare supporters by November 4.


There are lots of ways to turn out voters.  The urban machine bosses paid them; politically oriented churches have demanded it as “an act of faith;” districts got new construction projects to pave the way.[2]  But there is only one way to get a Democratic victory in those three states in a way that ensures Obama’s legacy and that is to make Obamacare the issue and win on that issue.  That’s Obamacare  2what I want the Obama ground game for.  I want the Republican candidates in those three states—and let’s toss in Montana, South Dakota, Arkansas, and West Virginia, who are poised to move from the Democratic column to the Republican column in November—to face voters who have just been given a priceless gift and I want the Republican candidates to campaign on taking it away from them.  The general campaign is already nasty, as you see here, but I want particular candidates to have to say this.

Here’s why I like that strategy.  Americans have never been united behind any health care plan at all.  The support for “a health care reform” is high, but for any particular one, low.  A Gallup poll on February 4, showed 51% of Americans opposed to Obamacare and 41% in favor.  Put that division on one side.  On the other side, put the conservative battle cry that the government keep their hands off my Medicare.  Hello?  “Government Medicare” is the only Medicare there is.  Once voters take a kind of government program to be part of their lives—it is now “my program,” the program I am entitled to—they resist having it taken away from them.  That’s the heart of this strategy.  Change the question from “Is Obamacare a good thing?” to “Are you going to allow the Republicans to take away your healthcare services?”

I want every Republican candidate in these seven states—the three toss-ups and the four “trending Republican—to face audiences full of people who now have healthcare benefits they never had before and I want them to have to argue, “If you elect me, I will vote to take those benefits away from you.”  Similarly, I want every Democratic candidate to have to argue that Obamacare will be safe if you elect enough Democrats.  The fact is that in some states, Arkansas and Louisiana, for instance, the Democratic candidate might be tempted to run against Obamacare on the grounds that it is not currently popular among the voters of that state.  Filling the audiences with recent recipients of Obamacare will be a useful corrective to that tendency to stray.

And finally, this legislative strategy united Barack, Harry, and Michael.  Michael and Harry might want a Democratic majority in the Senate however it might be achieved.  Anti-Obamacare Democrats in conservative states and pro-Obamacare Democrats in liberal states would be the same thing for them.  It would not be the same for President Obama.  He needs for the election to be about Obamacare and he needs a Democratic majority in the Senate that will support, clarify, and extend the measure.  So a strategy like mine united Barack, Harry, and Michael and I am arguing that is a good thing.

I’m not a big fan of Obamacare myself and if there were other options, I am sure President Obama would say the same.  There were a lot of things he wanted that didn’t make it into the law.  On the other hand, if it is accepted by more and more Americans, it can be made a better law over time.  A defeat of Obamacare—and that is what a Republican Congress, Senate and House, would mean—would be catastrophically bad.

So, guys, here’s my advice.  It is worth every penny you paid for it.


[1] In the House, of course, they are called “toss-up districts.”

[2] There are ways to shape the electorate by making it easier for some to vote and harder for others, of course.

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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