Politics

Marc Caputo: Government dysfunction is the new normal

 

mcaputo@MiamiHerald.com

If you like your political dysfunction, you can keep it.

Too bad President Obama didn’t promise that. It would have been accurate.

Instead, he had to say three dozen or so times that you could keep the insurance plan you like under his Affordable Care Act.

“Period,” the president said for added emphasis.

But it wasn’t true for many. So finally he made an apology of sorts last week.

And then he was off to fundraise in Miami, where he headlined three Friday events. On Saturday, Obama golfed with former basketball star Alonzo Mourning at the exclusive Grande Oaks Golf Club in Davie, site of the classic 1980 comedy movie Caddyshack. Then it was back to Washington.

Thus the political cycle churns: Wash with money. Spin. Repeat.

This was Obama’s third fundraising trip to Florida, and Miami-Dade, this year. Last year there was an election. So he came to Florida 15 times, often holding public events so the broadcast media would cover his remarks and so that taxpayers could help underwrite more of the bill for presidential travel and security.

The three Miami fundraisers Friday were all private, though reporters were allowed limited access.

Obama made sure to rebut Republican critics, like those in Florida, who have raised a fuss about people without insurance while simultaneously refusing to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. That denies the possibility of coverage to as many as 848,000 Floridians.

“More people could have healthcare via Medicaid,” Obama said. “But that’s not happening because of politics.”

Republican Gov. Rick Scott ducked the issue in a written statement.

“The President’s healthcare law is causing hundreds of thousands of Floridians to lose their health insurance plans. The White House should focus on helping these families, not Medicaid, which our state just recently reformed to be more flexible, accessible and cost-conscious,” Scott said. “Unfortunately, the White House’s politics of deflection and distraction won’t give anyone their healthcare back, even after the president promised that if they liked their plans, they could keep them.”

Scott’s comments are also laden with deflection, distraction and misleading opinion.

First off, those who have lost their current individual-market insurance plans will qualify for new ones. So it’s not as if insurance coverage is really lost.

And the overwhelming number of people aren’t affected by this because they’re insured through group plans provided by their employers. Still, Obamacare is raising the cost of some large-employer plans as well.

True, some people will pay more (despite Obama’s suggestion to the contrary). But some will pay less. Many will have better coverage and more access to coverage. There’s not enough data yet. Just spin from both sides.

As for the Medicaid reform Scott referenced, Obama’s administration signed off on it. And if Medicaid is so much better now, it makes the argument against expanding it more strained.

Scott tepidly called for Medicaid expansion this spring, but did almost nothing to get the GOP-led Legislature, particularly the conservative House, to sign on. Earlier in the year, Scott said he opposed Medicaid expansion and provided misleading financial numbers as a justification.

Republicans who control Florida — which has the nation’s second-highest rate of uninsured people — have done almost nothing to make insurance better or more affordable. Before Obamacare, tens of thousands of Floridians lost coverage yearly and millions experienced double-digit price increases without much attention from legislative leaders.

Nationally, it’s the same story. The GOP-controlled House hasn’t done much to reform insurance. But some have made sure to mislead about Obamacare before and since it was passed in March 2010.

Now, Republicans are outraged at Obama for misleading. And Democrats, previously outraged by misleading Republicans, are relatively quiet about the president’s fib.

Both sides are fundraising off Obamacare. And with so much financial incentive to mislead and attack, political dysfunction is all but guaranteed.

If Democrats don’t keep the Senate and don’t pick up a net 17 seats in the House, Democrats feel the president’s agenda is doomed. Republicans feel that, if they win the Senate, they can force Obama into negotiating more with them.

“Americans are now more likely to name dysfunctional government as the most important problem facing the country than to name any other specific problem,” Gallup reported Oct. 9. “Thirty-three percent of Americans cite dissatisfaction with government and elected representatives as the nation’s top issue, the highest such percentage in Gallup’s trend dating back to 1939. Dysfunctional government now eclipses the economy (19%), unemployment (12%), the deficit (12%), and healthcare (12%) as the nation’s top problem.”

As the head of that government, Obama is suffering politically.

Nationally, according to a new Pew Research poll, the president’s numbers have begun to tank. But the Affordable Care Act’s approval ratings (which are poor) have appeared to hold steady amid the barrage of negative publicity over the failures of Obamacare’s sign-up website.

Polls show Scott’s approval ratings remain low as well, and that former Gov. Charlie Crist, who wants his old job back, would probably beat Scott if the election were held today.

The Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat attended one of Obama’s high-dollar fundraisers in Coral Gables on Friday, waved to the news media from the balcony on Coral Way, and then sauntered down to the news-starved cameras (blocked from the fundraiser) afterward to grab free and easy media coverage for the nightly news.

When he was a Republican and then an independent in his failed 2010 bid for the U.S. Senate, Crist trashed the Affordable Care Act. Now, as a Democrat, he praises it. This is Crist’s sixth run for statewide office.

Wash with money. Spin. Repeat.

Just what happens with Obamacare in this political cycle is anyone’s guess right now.

Though it cost Democrats in 2010, the Affordable Care Act was a central campaign theme for Obama in 2012 — but largely in Spanish-language media watched by Hispanics, the fastest-growing electoral demographic, who are also among the least-insured.

In last week’s Virginia governor’s election, the political fallout of Obamacare is unclear as well.

Public polls indicated Democrat Terry McAuliffe would win by a large margin. Then came the drumbeat of negative stories about Obamacare, particularly the busted website and Obama’s feckless healthcare agency. Republican Ken Cuccinelli came far closer to winning on Election Day than many expected. But the public polls and unscientific expectations were likely off. Exit polls indicated Obamacare didn’t much hurt McAuliffe, who appeared to benefit far more from Cuccinelli’s conservative positions on abortion.

Virginia 2013 isn’t Florida 2014. But both are swing states. Like Virginia’s just-ended election, Florida’s features candidates with a lot of baggage as well as the promise of lots of negative ads. Scott is already spending hundreds of thousands on ads bashing Crist — a full year before Election Day.

Scott could spend $100 million or more. Crist, who still needs to get past Democrat Nan Rich in the primary, might need about $50 million to stay competitive with Scott in the final three months of 2014.

Wash with money. Spin. Repeat.

And get ready for more dysfunction. It’s here to stay.

Read more Marc Caputo stories from the Miami Herald

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