By George E. Curry
Since the enactment of the Affordable Care Act two years ago, polls have consistently shown that a slight plurality of Americans have opposed the measure. But public opinion now seems to be shifting in President Obama’s favor, with a slim plurality supporting the landmark healthcare measure.
The Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, released a week after the Supreme Court ruling upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), shows that 47 percent approve of the Supreme Court ruling, 43 percent oppose and 10 percent are uncertain.
Not surprisingly, as is the case with so many social issues, there is a deep political divide, with 83 percent of Democrats preferring to keep the law as is or expanding it and 79 percent of Republicans wanting to repeal it. Independents are divided, with 49 percent wanting to keep or expand the law and 41 percent favoring repeal.
A clear majority of Americans – 56 percent – are tired of the political bickering and want opponents to “stop their efforts to block the law and move on to other national problems.” An even larger 82 percent of Democrats share that sentiment.
However, if Republicans have their way, that is unlikely to happen soon. According to the poll, 69 percent of opponents want to “Continue trying to block the law from being implemented.” Among independents, 51 percent favor moving on to other issues, and 41 percent are for continuing the fight.
Because the Affordable Care Act was modeled after the health plan created by Mitt Romney when he was governor of Massachusetts, Romney is in an untenable position as he tries to draw a nonexistent distinction between what he did as governor and what Obama is supporting as president. That political contortion, delivered in the midst of blistering attacks on what Romney characterizes as “Obamacare,” has led to major flip-flopping in the camp of the Republican standard bearer who is trying to shed that label.
Central to the debate is Chief Justice John Roberts’ majority opinion that ACA is constitutional under Congress’ powers of taxation. A key provision of the health law is the individual mandate, a requirement that those who can afford it must buy insurance or face a financial consequence.
Obama has argued that because a person has the option of purchasing health insurance – a choice one does not enjoy when it comes to taxes – the punishment for failing to comply should be more accurately described as a penalty, not a tax.
Romney’s problem is that he made the identical argument as governor. For political reasons, however, Romney does not want to repeat that argument as Republicans try to use the ruling as proof that the president’s signature legislation is a massive tax hike on Americans.
On the CBS News broadcast “Face the Nation,” House Speaker John Boehner said, “It’s now a tax, since the court says it’s a tax.” That is directly at odds with what Romney said as governor.
Eric Fehrnstrom, a senior advisor to Romney, said in an interview on MSNBC: “The governor believes that what we put in place in Massachusetts was a penalty and he disagrees with the court’s ruling that the mandate was a tax.”
But “the governor” promptly threw Fehrnstrom under the bus.
“While I agreed with the dissent [that a health mandate is not a tax], that’s overtaken by the fact that the majority of the court said it’s a tax and therefore it is a tax,” Romney said in an interview with CBS News, contradicting himself and his senior campaign aide.
Politics aside, past polls showing most Americans opposed to the Affordable Care Act may have been misleading. Although the public expressed opposition to the law, when the actual provisions of ACA are described, there is widespread support – even among Republicans.
A poll released last month by Reuters/Ipsos found:
- Eighty-six percent of Republicans favor “banning insurance companies from cancelling policies because a person becomes ill.”
- Eighty percent of Republicans favor “creating an insurance pool where small businesses and uninsured have access to insurance exchanges to take advantage of large group pricing benefits.”
- Seventy-eight percent of Republicans support “banning insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions.”
- Fifty-seven percent of Republicans support “providing subsidies on a sliding scale to aid individuals and families who cannot afford health care insurance.”
- Fifty-four percent of Republicans favor “requiring companies with more than 50 employees to provide insurance for their employers.”
- Fifty-two percent of Republicans favor “allowing children to stay on parents insurance until age 26.”
These findings prove that the Obama administration has done an extremely poor job conveying the benefits of the Affordable Care Act to the public. If Romney wants to make this a campaign issue, Obama should gleefully borrow a page from Ronald Reagan when he told Congress in 1985 that he would veto any bill that would raise taxes.
To those considering testing his resolve, the actor-turned-president, borrowing a line from Harry Callahan played by Clint Eastwood in the film “Sudden Impact,” said, “Go ahead, make my day.”
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA) and editorial director of Heart & Soul magazine. He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his website, http://www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at http://www.twitter.com/currygeorge.