Today we're turning over the whole talking points section to the president, because he certainly deserves a victory lap after announcing this week that -- against all odds, and against all the slings and arrows of misfortune -- 7.1 million people signed up for health insurance on the Obamacare exchanges.
Because this will pre-empt our normal talking points, I'd like to point one thing out up front. Democrats, from this point on, should adopt a very simple technique to disarm Republican squabbles about Obamacare numbers. To every figure quoted for people gaining health insurance, Democrats should end with "...and counting." This is an easy miniature talking point to insert into any discussion of the numbers, using just two little words to point out a basic fact: these numbers are only going to grow over time. The deadline for signups was extended for just about everybody, so another two weeks of data will be announced later this month. After that, people will still be using the exchanges to buy insurance when their life situation changes (getting married, new job, whatever) outside of the open enrollment period. Which means the number will be even higher than 7.1 million by the start of the next open enrollment period later this year.
It's an easy way to make a big point. "The figure for signups is 7.1 million... and counting...." So every Democrat out on the campaign trail or on television should use these significant two words as often as possible when talking about Obamacare's numbers in the next few months.
OK, enough of that. Let's take an extremely quick look at the political news of the week, before we get to our awards and our special edition of the talking points. First, some Republican follies (since April Fool's Day fell during the past week, it's only appropriate). Fox News actually apologized for running a misleading graph in the days before the Obamacare number was announced. Will wonders never cease? Except, of course, I doubt they ran the graph again when Obama actually met the target of 7 million. Even so, "Fox News apologizes" isn't the normal sort of headline we're used to seeing.
Paul Ryan put out his budget, which truly deserves a full slate of talking points from Democrats sooner or later (we'll get to it in the coming weeks, never fear, there's plenty of time to do so). It's easy enough to criticize Ryan's budget. For instance, Ryan cuts Medicare by the same amount he demonized Obama for cutting, out on the campaign trail -- and that's just the most obvious thing to point out. But Ryan got some criticism from an unexpected direction, as Sarah Palin (remember her?) ripped into Ryan for not cutting enough and not cutting faster, and called his budget a "joke" and "the definition of insanity."
OK, since it's been four or five years, let's check in on the ongoing Republican effort to come up with a bill that would replace Obamacare, should they ever successfully repeal it. Here is John Boehner speaking about the progress of this effort: "The president can go out there and tout about all the people he's signed up. Our job is to show the American people we have better solutions, and we're working to build a consensus to do that. And when we have something to talk about, we'll show you."
Wow. When they have something, they'll show us. Not exactly confidence-building, is it? I guess we'll have to check back in another four or five years -- maybe they'll have a bill by then, eh?
Republican War On Women update: the Heritage Foundation held a fun seminar to explain how Republicans need to convince women that the thing they should really do is to get married. You just can't make this stuff up, folks. The whole story's hilarious, especially where the Heritage "lectures director" opens the session by addressing the audience (which was "small and mostly male, many of them apparently Heritage interns") with: "Wow. Where are all the ladies?" Where, indeed.
There are Republicans who understand the damage the whole War On Women is doing to their party, but they are few and far between. If this had been a slow week in political news, I might have mined a great Salon interview (with Oklahoma state representative Doug Cox) for talking points, because it is such an astounding viewpoint from a Republican, these days. Cox is a doctor (who has "delivered 800 babies") who knows what he's talking about on the subject of women, reproduction, abortion, and hard life choices people sometimes make. The whole interview is well worth reading, if only to prove that not every single Republican is a patriarchal throwback.
In news from the intelligence community, Dianne Feinstein's Senate committee voted in bipartisan fashion to approve public release of a summary of their classified report on torture. This would mean over 400 pages would be released out of the 6,300-page total report. It now goes to the C.I.A. for vetting, so we still won't be seeing it anytime soon, though. It was also revealed this week that the U.S. government has been running a social networking site in Cuba, to undermine the Castro government, for whatever that's worth.
Over in the House, Darrell Issa held yet another hearing on Benghazi, where the man in charge of the C.I.A. at the time (and who edited the infamous "talking points" document) was asked repeatedly if all the Republican conspiracy theories were true. Repeatedly, he forcefully shot down such nonsense. From a Washington Post article on the hearing:
"I never allowed politics to influence what I said or did -- never," he testified. "None of our actions were the result of political influence in the intelligence process -- none.... The White House did not make any substantive changes to the talking points, nor did they ask me to." He called the talking points -- which turned out to be wrong -- "the best available information at the time."
Did he have a conversation with anyone at the White House about the nature of the talking points?
His thoughts on the false information Susan Rice gave on TV the Sunday after the attacks?
"What she said about the attacks evolving spontaneously from a protest was exactly what the talking points said."
How about the claims that somebody in the administration told the military not to assist on the night of the attack?
"I am aware of several requests by C.I.A. for military support that night, and those requests were honored and delivered."
Republicans, of course, went bonkers upon hearing this, insisting that their fantasy of political influence just had to be true. In the face of all evidence to the contrary, of course. Issa isn't done with Benghazi, though (Issa will never be done with Benghazi), so expect this sort of thing right up to the 2016 election.
Finally, in a normal week we'd make this the last talking point, just because it's funny. A Republican candidate has discovered that entering politics means your entire past will be scrutinized, even if you try to scrub it from the internet. Photos used to exist of this guy "burning books, aiming shotguns at dogs, dressed as a vampire, dressed as a demon, Satanic symbolism, chained and gagged," and one with the memorable title: "Put on my Rape Face." Follow the links in the article to see some of these (you can also see the guy dressed as The Flash in a photo that ran with the article). And feel free to write your own talking point, as it's pretty easy to do so with that kind of material to work with.
Before we get to the main award, there are many unsung heroes to congratulate on the last-minute push to get folks signed up on Obamacare. Martha Bergmark has a great article at Huffington Post which gives these folks the credit they certainly deserve. We'd like to add our own Honorable Mention to all of Obamacare's unsung heroes.
The obvious choice for this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award is none other than President Barack Obama. We can't tell, at this point in time, the absolute magnitude of his political victory quite yet, but his announcement this week that the program had actually exceeded the original signup estimate was nothing short of astounding. Nobody -- us included -- predicted such a fantastic finish, especially in the dark days of the website's woes. For two months, night after night the national news led with "Obamacare website still broken," which was one-third of the total signup period. Nobody -- nobody -- predicted that even with such a disastrous launch the program would still hit its target number for the first year.
That is impressive indeed. It allows Democrats to now pivot to highlighting the good news stories on Obamacare, rather than defending the website for the rest of the year. Obama took what amounted to a victory lap in the Rose Garden to announce the final number, which he well deserved (more on this in the talking points section below).
Obama was even feeling feisty enough to make a snide comment about Paul Ryan's budget (again, normally this would be its own talking point, but they've been pre-empted). Appearing in Ann Arbor after eating at Zingerman's, a local deli, Obama used a Ryan-budget-as-a-sandwich metaphor: "If they tried to sell this sandwich at Zingerman's, they'd have to call it the 'Stinkburger' or the 'Meanwich.' "
All around, a pretty good week for Obama. But, just for hitting that 7.1 million signup number alone, Barack Obama is without question the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. Bravo, Mister President: 7.1 million. And counting.
[Congratulate President Barack Obama on the White House contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]
We first have a (Dis-)Honorable Mention award, for James Moran, House member from Virginia, who is upset that Congress just denied themselves their yearly "cost of living adjustment" raise. For the past few years, Congress has not raised their pay, and according to Moran, the $174,000 salary they get is just not enough to live on. Hey, life's tough all around, pal.
But there was a state-level Democrat that absolutely took the cake this week in the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week category. Arizona state senator Olivia Cajero Bedford told her colleague, state senator Steve Gallardo -- who came out a few weeks ago and announced he was gay (see FTP 294, where we gave him an Honorable Mention) -- that he should "act more gay." Um, wait... what?
The whole story is downright bizarre, especially since Bedford was in the middle of trying to remove Gallardo from a leadership post. Here are the key quotes from the story:
"I'm fine with him being gay or not," Cajero Bedford said, before casting suspicion on why he was "hiding it."
Gallardo, who is running for Congress in Arizona's 7th District, told the Capitol Times he didn't understand "what the hell that has to do with anything."
Excellent response, we have to say. No matter the reason, this was simply a stupid thing to say for any politician, much less a Democrat. Which is why Olivia Cajero Bedford is, quite obviously, our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week.
[Contact Arizona Senator Olivia Cajero Bedford on her Senate contact page, to let her know what you think of her actions.]
Volume 298 (4/4/14)
As promised, we've got a special edition of the talking points today. These are all excerpts from Obama's speech in the Rose Garden where he officially announced: "despite several lost weeks out of the gate because of problems with the website, 7.1 million Americans have now signed up for private insurance plans through these marketplaces -- 7.1." You really can't fault him for repeating that number. I'd only add "and counting" (which is nothing more than a cheap way of returning to my titular theme this week, I fully admit).
I usually present these speech excerpts in the order they appear in the speech, but today I moved two of them up to the front. I did this because these talking points are the most important -- because they are precisely what Democrats need to be doing right about now: touting Obamacare success stories. These stories are out there, and the people responsible for the Democratic midterm effort should be actively looking for them to run in political ads. It won't be hard to find these stories, they're popping up everywhere -- even in the unlikeliest places, like on Ted Cruz's Facebook page (he tried to troll for horror stories, and instead got a faceful of comments such as: "Without the ACA, my 21 year old autistic son would not have any insurance. Thank you President Obama." -- dang them intertubes!). Obama shows how to use these stories effectively -- something all Democrats should start doing immediately.
Other than moving the three personal stories to the front (there are two separate stories in the second talking point), the rest of this is presented in order. Obama's full speech transcript is well worth reading, especially if you have ever wanted to see what a full-throated defense of Obamacare really looks like. But here are the seven passages that caught my eye, prefaced by the reasons I think they're the best.
The price of a year in college
Personalize it! Tell people's stories! Obama shows how easy it is to do this, and hopefully other Democrats will soon follow his lead.
Let me give you a sense of what this change has meant for millions of our fellow Americans. I'll just give you a few examples. Sean Casey, from Solana Beach, California, always made sure to cover his family on the private market. But pre-existing medical conditions meant his annual tab was over $30,000. The Affordable Care Act changed that. See, if you have a pre-existing condition, like being a cancer survivor, or if you suffer chronic pain from a tough job, or even if you've just been charged more for being a woman -- you can no longer be charged more than anybody else. So this year, the Casey family's premiums will fall from over $30,000 to under $9,000.
And I know this because Sean took the time to write me a letter. "These savings," he said, "will almost offset the cost of our daughter's first year in college. I'm a big believer in this legislation, and it has removed a lot of complexity and, frankly, fear from my life. Please keep fighting for the ACA." That's what Sean had to say.
I felt like a human being again
Get these stories out there! Put a face to what Obamacare was designed to do!
Jeanne Goe is a bartender from Enola, Pennsylvania. Now, I think most folks are aware being a bartender, that's a job that usually doesn't offer health care. For years, Jeanne went uninsured or underinsured, often getting some health care through her local Planned Parenthood. In November, she bought a plan on the marketplace. In January, an illness sent her to the hospital. And because her new plan covered a CAT scan she wouldn't have otherwise been able to afford, her doctor discovered that she also had ovarian cancer -– and gave her a chance to beat it. So she wrote me a letter, too. She said it's going to be "a long tough road to kill this cancer, but I can walk that road knowing insurance isn't an issue. I won't be refused care. I hope to send a follow-up letter in a few months saying I am free and clear of this disease, but until then, I know I will be fighting just as you have been fighting for my life as a working American citizen."
And after her first wellness visit under her new insurance plan, Marla Morine, from Fort Collins, Colorado, shared with me what it meant to her. "After using my new insurance for the first time, you probably heard my sigh of relief from the White House. I felt like a human being again. I felt that I had value."
Obamacare benefits people don't even realize
This has been sadly lacking up until now: reminding the public that even people who don't have to use the exchange to get insurance are still benefiting from Obamacare.
And in these first six months, we've taken a big step forward. And just as importantly, this law is bringing greater security to Americans who already have coverage. Because of the Affordable Care Act, 100 million Americans have gained free preventive care, like mammograms and contraceptive care, under their existing plans. Because of this law, nearly 8 million seniors have saved almost $10 billion on their medicine because we've closed a gaping hole in Medicare's prescription drug plan. We're closing the donut hole. And because of this law, a whole lot of families won't be driven into bankruptcy by a serious illness, because the Affordable Care Act prevents your insurer from placing dollar limits on the coverage they provide.
These are all benefits that have been taking place for a whole lot of families out there, many who don't realize that they've received these benefits. But the bottom line is this: Under this law, the share of Americans with insurance is up and the growth of health care costs is down, and that's good for our middle class and that's good for our fiscal future.
A lot better
Obama, even while spiking the football, remains very realistic. The point about premium rises being the smallest in half a century is another good thing to point out, because it is something the media has completely taken a pass on reporting.
Now, that doesn't mean that all the problems in health care have been solved forever. Premiums are still rising for families who have insurance, whether you get it through your employer or you buy it on your own -- that's been true every year for decades. But, so far, those premiums have risen more slowly since the Affordable Care Act passed than at any time in the past 50 years. It's also true that, despite this law, millions of Americans remain uncovered in part because governors in some states for political reasons have deliberately refused to expand coverage under this law. But we're going to work on that. And we'll work to get more Americans covered with each passing year.
And while it remains true that you'll still have to change your coverage if you graduate from college or turn 26 years old or move or switch jobs, or have a child -- just like you did before the Affordable Care Act was passed -- you can now go to healthcare.gov and use it year-round to enroll when circumstances in your life change. So, no, the Affordable Care Act hasn't completely fixed our long-broken health care system, but this law has made our health care system a lot better -- a lot better.
The Affordable Care Act is here to stay
These paragraphs were the meat of Obama's football-spike and end-zone dance. You've got to love that "Armageddon has not arrived." In fact, I could have separated this one passage into seven separate talking points, if the rest of Obama's speech didn't even exist.
That's part of what change looks like in a democracy. Change is hard. Fixing what's broken is hard. Overcoming skepticism and fear of something new is hard. A lot of times folks would prefer the devil they know to the devil they don't.
But this law is doing what it's supposed to do. It's working. 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, 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. Instead, this law is helping millions of Americans, and in the coming years it will help millions more.
I've said before, I will always work with anyone who is willing to make this law work even better. But the debate over repealing this law is over. The Affordable Care Act is here to stay.
Some explaining to do
Obama then immediately pivots to showing Democrats how to really go on offense on the whole issue: challenge your opponent to explain why these people should not be helped to live their lives better.
And those who have based their entire political agenda on repealing it have to explain to the country why Jeanne should go back to being uninsured. They should explain why Sean and his family should go back to paying thousands and thousands of dollars more. They've got to explain why Marla doesn't deserve to feel like she's got value. They have to explain why we should go back to the days when seniors paid more for their prescriptions or women had to pay more than men for coverage, back to the days when Americans with pre-existing conditions were out of luck -- they could routinely be denied the economic security of health insurance -- because that's exactly what would happen if we repeal this law. Millions of people who now have health insurance would not have it. Seniors who have gotten discounts on their prescription drugs would have to pay more. Young people who were on their parents' plan would suddenly not have health insurance.
No more healthcare bankruptcies!
I've always felt that this is the best talking point to explain why Obamacare was passed in the first place: so that people don't have to go bankrupt to pay a hospital bill. It's a basic concept, which is why Obama hit it at the end of his speech once again.
But today should remind us that the goal we set for ourselves -- that no American should go without the health care that they need; that no family should be bankrupt because somebody in that family gets sick, because no parent should have to be worried about whether they can afford treatment because they're worried that they don't want to have to burden their children; the idea that everybody in this country can get decent health care -- that goal is achievable.
-- Chris Weigant