Obama’s Approval Sinks As He Fights for Health Plan
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The Fiscal Times
September 26, 2013

President Obama, suffering his lowest public approval in two years, defended his even more unpopular health care law during a speech Thursday morning in suburban Maryland.

Locked in political mortal combat with Republicans over the future of his signature Affordable Care Act and the government’s AAA credit rating, Obama delivered a detailed defense of a program designed to extend insurance coverage to millions of uninsured Americans next year.

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“There are few things more fundamental to the economic security of the middle class, and everybody who has tried to get into the middle class, than health care,” Obama said. “In the wealthiest nation on earth, nobody should go broke just because they got sick.”

He lashed out at his Republican critics for using the threat of a government shutdown or a default on the U.S. debt to “blackmail” him into sidelining the healthcare law for at least a year.

“The Affordable Care Act is here to stay,” Obama told a cheering young audience at Prince George's Community College in Largo, Md. The president clearly has been hurt politically by growing public disenchantment with his health care program, as well as his handling of the federal debt and foreign policy.

Forty-nine percent of the public disapproves of Obama’s job performance, according to a new New York Times/CBS News poll, while only 43 percent approves – a troubling showing that matches his worst rating in the past two years. Only 30 percent of Americans believe he “cares a lot” about their needs and problems, the poll showed.

But in an unyielding response to Republican demands for a one-year postponement of Obamacare in return for a short-term continuing resolution to keep the government open and raising the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling, the president said he would not relent and negotiate the terms of “the full faith and credit of America.”

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Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced yesterday that the government would be left with just $30 billion cash on hand “no later” than Oct. 17 and could not cover all of the government’s obligations unless Congress agreed to increase the Treasury’s borrowing authority before then.

“Some of the same Republicans who warned three years ago that this [health care] law would be Armageddon . . . now are threatening steps that actually would badly hurt our entire economy,” Obama said.  “Some are threatening a government shutdown if they can’t shut down this law. Others have actually threatened an economic shutdown by refusing to pay America’s bills if they can’t delay the law. That’s not going to happen as long as I’m president.”

The president spoke shortly after House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA)  announced a plan that would link an increase in the Treasury’s borrowing authority to approval of a House Republican legislative wish list, including a one-year delay of Obamacare taxes, mandates and benefits.

“Our plan reduces energy costs for families and businesses, it calls for the reform of our tax code, it reforms Washington spending and it delays Obamacare for one year for all American families,” Cantor said. “Now President Obama has already delayed the law for big business, for insurance companies and the politically connected. So this is only fair for us to say that American families should also have the benefit of delay that this president has given to those.”

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Obama has a few things going for him in the mushrooming fiscal crisis: Despite his low standing with Americans, he still is a lot more popular than congressional Republicans, who suffer from a 73 percent disapproval rating, according to a recent CBS/New York Times poll.  Moreover, even in light of the widespread disenchantment with the health care law, a majority of the public object to the GOP’s effort to stop funding for the program.

Fifty-six percent of Americans say they would prefer that Congress uphold the new law and make it work. Only 38 percent of those surveyed want Congress to stop the new law by cutting off funding.

Obama's late morning speech was delivered just five days before the opening of health care exchanges nationwide. While the administration insists the new system will be fully operational by next week, a number of states have reported technical glitches in the complicated on-line health insurance program.

Yesterday, District of Columbia officials disclosed that a major part of its new system will not be ready on Tuesday because of a “high error rate” discovered in recent testing. And the Associated Press reported today that small businesses will not be able to enroll online starting next Tuesday. Instead, business owners will initially have to mail or fax their information to workers so that they can enroll.

Obama acknowledged there have been problems with the startup, but insisted that is to be expected when launching any complicated new program. “There are going to be some glitches as this thing unfolds,” he said. “Folks in different parts of the country will have different experiences… it will be smoother in places like Maryland where governors are working to implement it rather than fight it.”

Washington Editor and D.C. Bureau Chief Eric Pianin is a veteran journalist who has covered the federal government, congressional budget and tax issues, and national politics. He spent over 25 years at The Washington Post.