ObamaCare's Defenders to the Public: Trust Us, You Really Like This Law!


Before the Affordable Care Act passed, many of its supporters argued that, despite the law's not-so-great poll numbers, passing it would give the president a popularity boost, and the law would become more popular over time. It was a public policy version of the "try it, you'll like it" argument that parents use to get finnicky kids to eat weird casseroles. But it didn't seem likely at the time, and, sure enough, it turns out there was no bounce for Obama. Similarly, most polls since passage show that the law's popularity has not improved, and slightly more people still dislike it than like it. In fact, Rassmussen (which is an outlier amongst pollsters), says the law has become less popular since passage, though its numbers also show opposition receding slightly in recent weeks.

But they aren't receding fast enough, apparently. White House allies—i.e. former administration staffers and Democratic party flacks—are forming a non-profit advocacy group dedicated to pushing party-line propaganda selling the public on the law's virtues.

Close allies of the Obama administration, seeking to rally the public behind President Obama's landmark health care bill, are planning to spend $25 million over the next five years to promote the measure and beat back mischaracterizations of it that could harm Democratic candidates.

Mr. Obama's former communications director, Anita Dunn, and longtime Democratic strategist Andrew Grossman, have teamed up to form two new tax-exempt groups. The first, already incorporated as a nonprofit organization under the 501 c(3) provision of the tax code, is called the Health Information Center, and will run an intense public information campaign around the new law.

The second, still in the planning, will engage in political advocacy to "protect the law – and those who supported it – against distortions, misrepresentations and outright lies," according to a Democratic strategist familiar with the effort. The strategist said Mr. Grossman will be involved in both groups, and raise money from usual Democratic sources – including foundations and unions – to finance them.

Mr. Grossman spent 2009 coordinating health care advocacy groups in support of the new law. In a telephone interview Friday, he said he was forming the two groups "to explain the benefits of the health care law to the public, because that's the best way to get them to support it."

Boy, these guys can't take a hint, can they? This is the same line they used during the debate—voters just need to understand the law's benefits, which translates to: "Let's tell them all the good things and try to distract them from the parts they might not like." But there was reasonably good evidence (as far as public policy polling goes) that voters knew about its supposed benefits and, because they were also aware of its costs, didn't like the law anyway.

How politically toxic is ObamaCare? It's tough to say for sure. Whether continued opposition to the law will be a major issue in November depends in large part on the unemployment rate and the state of the economy, so it may turn out that the law's rocky reception doesn't weigh heavily on election results. But even still, the fact that these groups are being set up shows that Democrats know it's hardly a winner; that they are still struggling to sell it, despite all the time and resources that have already been poured into pushing its benefits, suggests just how badly they miscalculated.

And at this point, I suspect it will be more difficult to defend the law than before it was passed. Since its passage, bad news has continued to pile up, and many the claims made about it have become increasingly difficult to maintain. We've already seen reports that the total cost will be more than expected, that the administration isn't hitting its deadlines, that it won't bring overall health care spending down, that some health insurance premiums will probably rise, that Medicare benefits for many seniors are scheduled to go on the chopping block, that it will strain emergency rooms, and that employers expect medical costs to rise and are looking at dropping millions from their health care plans—all of which is to say that what the law's advocates sold to the public isn't quite what they delivered. If protecting the public from distortions and misrepresentations is really what these folks hope to do, maybe they ought to start with their own side.