Why healthcare could prove to be Obama’s insurance policy

Not that I mean to boast or anything, but this particular writer is fortunate (or brilliant, whichever you prefer) enough to have been accepted onto a study abroad scheme to spend the next academic year in New York.

Inflated ego aside, this has allowed me the pleasure of spending my morning off browsing health insurance options from US providers. What is immediately striking is just how complicated it all seems, and how bizarre it is for a UK citizen so fond of the NHS to have to think about such matters.

Health insurance is currently top of my agenda, and it seems Barack Obama is intent on moving it up the agenda of the US electorate as well.

Ever since the President’s healthcare plans were passed into law, the White House and Democrats as a whole have largely run away from the issue. Aware of its unpopularity and the success their Republican opponents were enjoying in exploiting this public mood (in the 2010 mid-terms Republicans enjoyed huge gains running against Obama), the Democrats seemed determined to prevent November’s election from being framed by healthcare.

So, what has changed?

Well, opponents of the bill have spent the period since it was enacted attempting to reverse the legislation. This battle is finally coming to a head, with the Supreme Court this week beginning to hear arguments on the law’s constitutionality. Perhaps the White House hope that this natural bump back into the public consciousness will help them to recast the reforms in their favour. This would explain their sudden embrace of the initially pejorative term ‘Obamacare’. Poll numbers, however, would suggest otherwise.

Far from being largely undecided and open to the persuasive arguments the White House looks set to employ, the American public appears to have made up its mind. Just this week, a poll showed 38% of Americans want the entire law to be overturned by the Supreme Court, while 52% say they oppose the law. Obama and his team will no doubt retain hope that such opinion is not so steadfastly held, and that they can present a convincing case in favour of the reforms. Still, the uncertain possibility that a hostile public can be persuaded of a policy’s merits is not reason enough to place healthcare reform right back in the spotlight ahead of an election.

Which brings us to the second, and perhaps most crucial, factor. Mitt Romney is now all but certain to contest November’s election as the Republican nominee. Still holding onto futile hope, Rick Santorum has in the past few days seized on the increased profile of healthcare to attack Romney. Calling health care “the mega issue,” he argued that Romney is “the one guy who can’t make the case.” This, of course, is a reference to the fact that  Romney introduced similar healthcare reforms while Governor of Massachusetts. A fact not lost on senior Obama aide David Plouffe, who told Meet The Press this weekend that “Mitt Romney is the godfather of our health care plan”.

The Democrats, sure now that Romney will be their opponent, can make their case over healthcare safe in the knowledge that the nominee of the opposing party is weakest on this very issue. Republicans will no doubt continue their attacks, but Romney’s history on healthcare will blunt them.

What seems increasingly clear, however, is that healthcare may not just blunt the attacks of their opponents, but may prove the Democrats’ biggest weapon. Romney has already garnered quite a reputation for ‘flip-flopping’, if not lying. If the White House can push him to oppose ‘Obamacare’ now that the spotlight is truly on, then the trap is set for Romney to play into every existing caricature that exists in the public’s conception of him as both a candidate and a man. Saying anything to get elected, running away from his own record, a moderate at heart who is only playing to a conservative base.

Since its inception healthcare has been the policy Democrats wanted nothing to do with. Now, President Obama seems to have realized the opportunity it presents in cementing the reputation his opponent will be desperate to dispel. Whether the Democrats can win over a sceptical public or not, pushing healthcare to the top of the electoral agenda ensures a lose-lose situation for Mitt Romney.

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Posted on March 27, 2012, in Comment, Foreign Affairs, Looking Forward, US Politics and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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