A week after Democrats suffered a stinging congressional loss in Florida, President Barack Obama came to the Sunshine State for a Thursday rally and two Miami fundraisers to help his party’s U.S. House and Senate campaign efforts.
Hanging over the visit: The Affordable Care Act.
The unpopular law — and its disastrous rollout in October — helped drag down the president’s poll numbers and stands to be a major campaign issue throughout the 2014 elections.
“Despite the fact that the website was really bad for the first month, it’s now fixed — more than 5 million Americans have signed up for plans at healthcare.gov,” Obama said in his Orlando speech at Valencia College, drawing laughs.
Never miss a local story.
“I know there are a lot of TV ads around that don’t always accurately reflect what’s going on,” Obama said.
The TV ads Obama referenced aired almost nonstop in the Tampa Bay region during the just-ended nationally watched special congressional election that Democrat Alex Sink lost. Obamacare played a role in Sink’s defeat.
“Obamacare has become shorthand for government that doesn’t work,” said Adam Goodman, a Republican ad guru who helped guide the anti-Obamacare message of the Republican who beat Sink, David Jolly.
“Embracing Obamacare ought to scare every Democrat in the country,” Goodman said.
But some leading Florida Democrats say they’ll campaign on the law, which turns four years old on Sunday. The enrollment deadline for the Affordable Care Act individual health plans ends March 31.
U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia said he, too, represents a swing district like the one Sink ran for; but unlike that Tampa Bay-area district, his Miami-Florida Keys seat is heavily Hispanic and working class — the type of people who would benefit most from the Affordable Care Act.
Garcia said that, despite the stumbles with Obamacare’s implementation last year, the law on balance is a plus.
“How do you run away with people having no lifetime coverage limits, with people not discriminated against because they have pre-existing conditions, with children up to the age of 26 being covered, with women having free mammograms?” Garcia asked rhetorically, ticking off the pluses of the Affordable Care Act.
Garcia also said the law has lowered healthcare costs overall and has made Medicare more solvent.
Still, he said, “this was now handed down on tablets by Moses on the mountain … it’s not perfect,” which is why he has joined Republicans and repeatedly voted to delay aspects of the program.
But Obamacare also cuts at least 1.9 percent from Medicare Advantage, and the private insurers who run the program say they have to limit access to some health care providers.
About 1.4 million seniors are enrolled in the program, which was designed to save money but actually costs more per recipient than traditional Medicare.
In advance of Obama’s visit, Republican Gov. Rick Scott posted an Instagram video that highlighted the reductions.
“Mr. President, please stop the Medicare Advantage cuts to pay for Obamacare. Florida seniors are depending on you,” Scott said.
In his public statements, Scott has begun criticizing Obama more than Crist as of late. It’s a sign of the president’s poor poll numbers, which took a dive when the Affordable Care Act enrollment website didn’t initially work.
Obama’s false campaign statements that people could keep their doctors and their insurance under Obamacare have also hurt the president’s standing. And Republicans are pointing out that some people will have to pay more for their health insurance, not less as the act implicitly promises.
Scott’s leading Democratic rival, former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, said he once bashed the act but he now says he was mistaken. While Crist said he thinks the Medicare Advantage cuts should be canceled, he said Scott’s criticisms were just phony political point-scoring.
“He’s a fraud,” Crist said. “This is a good law. It helps people.”
Like Garcia and Sink, Crist espouses a “keep and fix” approach to the law. Many Republicans say they want to “repeal and replace.” Neither side has provided many specifics.
Crist attended Obama’s first fundraiser, for the Democratic National Committee, at the Miami home Liliana Estefan, host of the popular Spanish-language Univision gossip show El Gordo y la Flaca. Estefan, the niece of local music legends Emilio and Gloria Estefan, is a registered Republican along with her husband.
The Republican National Committee questioned Univision’s neutrality, noting the network is also involved in a charitable partnership with Hillary Clinton, a likely 2016 presidential candidate.
“Univision should explain to their viewers their conflict of interest,” Izzy Santa, an RNC spokeswoman, wrote on Twitter.
A Univision spokeswoman, Monica Talan, said in a Twitter response that “who or what our employees support on their own time is independent from the Company.”
The second fundraiser Obama attended, at the home of former NBA great Alonzo Mourning, sparked less controversy. The event raised money for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Rep. Garcia attended the event along with Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton, Weston Rep. and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi, who hopes to become House speaker again.
Pelosi told reporters in Washington on Thursday that Democrats should embrace the law. “I believe that it’s a winner,” she said.
Pelosi said people should call the law the Affordable Care Act, and accused Republicans of calling it Obamacare to make people forget the purpose of the law. She also said Obama, who uses the term Obamacare as well, shouldn’t.
At Mourning’s home, Obama didn’t mention the Affordable Care Act in his speech, but he talked to the wealthy donors about their need to give back to the party and to support the “collective effort” that has helped make America great.
Obama said the “good news” is that the polls are on the side of Democrats when it comes to major issues like the minimum wage, early childhood education, raising the minimum wage, immigration reform.
“The challenge is that our politics in Washington have become so toxic that people just lose faith and finally they just say: ‘you know what? I’m not interested. I’m not going to bother. I’m not going to vote. And that’s especially true during the midterms,” he said.
In presidential elections, he said, young, women and minorities turn out and vote for a “more-representative cross section of America.”
“But in midterms, we get clobbered,” Obama said, noting too many minority and young voters stay home. “We’re going to have to get over that.”