WASHINGTON — A surge of interest on the last day of open enrollment pushed Obamacare well over the administration's target of 7 million sign-ups, according to preliminary figures that put the White House into a celebratory mood Tuesday.
But the president's messaging machine was also shifting into gear for the next big challenge: persuading Americans of the healthcare law's success before congressional elections this fall.
While previously uninsured Americans are getting used to their new access to healthcare, the White House wants to drive home the message that the benefits may be at risk if Republicans are in charge.
"Repeal" is the word of warning at the White House now, as White House Press Secretary Jay Carney made clear in his daily briefing, where he repeatedly used the word.
"Now there are at least 7,040,000 Americans who have enrolled through the marketplaces for affordable quality health insurance," Carney said. " And those who run against it, who run on repeal and offer nothing in return but the old status quo, are going to have some explaining to do to those millions of Americans who now have the security of affordable health insurance."
The Republican National Committee declared by email Tuesday that "ObamaCare is still a disaster." Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky questioned the merit of signing up.
"We don't know of course, exactly what they have signed up for. We don't know how many have paid," McConnell told reporters. "What we do know is that all across the country our constituents are having an unpleasant interaction with Obamacare. Whether they can sign up for a policy or not, they are discovering, of course, higher premiums, a higher deductible. Many of them are losing their jobs and so it is really is a catastrophe for the country both for the healthcare providers and the consumers."
But the White House was giddy over passing the 7-million mark, the original target number. After the disastrous launch of HealthCare.gov, the administration revised the number downward by 1 million. The website was eventually fixed, though it faltered Monday under the high volume.
Signs of the White House's buoyant mood were evident Tuesday morning, as White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough paid a visit to the press room carrying donuts and wearing a broad smile.Todd Park, the White House technology officer, toasted techies at the headquarters of QSSI, the Maryland-based contractor that was put in charge of fixing the troubled website.
President Obama planned an afternoon visit to the Rose Garden to mark the moment. An aide said he was focused on the critical task to come: implementing the law efficiently.
After months of fallout from the HealthCare.gov fiasco, the White House is intensely aware of how implementation problems could mean trouble for Democrats in the fall.
After a meeting with the president Tuesday at the White House, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco predicted that Democrats now will be touting the success of the Affordable Care Act until the November election.
"We're proud of it," Pelosi said, "and we're proud of what it means for the American people."