WASHINGTON — In a buoyant Rose Garden event Tuesday to announce that 7.1 million people signed up by the deadline for the first round of Obamacare, President Obama gleefully declared his healthcare law “good for the country” and pledged he would work to perfect it in the months to come.
But as his audience whistled and cheered at the number of enrollments – a target the White House previously said it couldn’t hit – the president quickly sharpened his message into a critique of those he said have “based their entire political agenda on repealing” the Affordable Care Act.
“This law is doing what it’s supposed to do,” Obama said. “It’s helping people from coast to coast, all of which makes the lengths to which critics have gone to scare people or undermine the law or try to repeal the law without offering any plausible alternative so hard to understand.”
“I’ve got to admit,” he went on, “I don’t get it. Why are folks working so hard for people not to have health insurance? Why are they so mad about the idea of folks having health insurance? Many of the tall tales that have been told about this law have been debunked. There are still no death panels. Armageddon has not arrived.”
For the crowd of staffers and supporters who have been working on Obamacare for months and years, it was a satisfying moment. They interrupted Obama twice with sustained applause and cheers.
But it was more than an emotional response. The president’s messaging machine is shifting into gear for the political challenge to come: persuading Americans of Obamacare’s merits before congressional elections come around this fall.
As 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.
“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.”
After Obama spoke, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), took issue with Obama’s remarks in the Rose Garden.
“Despite the White House ‘victory lap,’ this law continues to harm the American people,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in a statement. “Every promise the president made has been broken: healthcare costs are rising, not falling. Americans are losing the doctors and plans that they like – especially seniors suffering under President Obama’s Medicare cuts. Small businesses are afraid to hire new workers, hobbling our economic growth. That’s why we must replace this fundamentally flawed law with patient-centered solutions that will actually lower healthcare costs and help create jobs.”
But from the start of the day, the White House was giddy over passing the 7-million mark. After the disastrous launch of HealthCare.gov, the administration revised that target downward by 1 million. The website was eventually fixed, though it faltered Monday under the high volume.
Signs of the White House’s celebratory mood were evident Tuesday morning, as White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough paid a visit to the press room carrying doughnuts 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.