In his sixth State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Obama touted the achievements of his signature health care law – including expanded health coverage for 10 million Americans and the slowdown of health care spending growth to the lowest rate in over 50 years.
He deliberately left out any mention, however, of the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare by name while chastising Republicans for persistently threatening to dismantle the law that is his chief domestic policy achievement.
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“In the past year alone, about ten million uninsured Americans finally gained the security of health coverage,” the president said. He went on to list a handful of other initiatives that are at odds with Republican policy beliefs, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and other Dodd-Frank reforms.
“At every step, we were told our goals were misguided or too ambitious; that we would crush jobs and explode deficits. Instead, we’ve seen the fastest economic growth in over a decade, our deficits cut by two-thirds, a stock market that has doubled, and health care inflation at its lowest rate in fifty years,” Obama said, seemingly claiming credit for all of these occurrences.
He made clear that if Republicans send a bill to undermine any of his programs, he would veto it.
“So the verdict is clear. Middle-class economics works. Expanding opportunity works. And these policies will continue to work, as long as politics don’t get in the way,” Obama said.
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After the speech, freshman Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) opened her official GOP response by aiming a target at Obamacare.
“We see the hurt caused by canceled health care plans and higher monthly insurance bills,” Ernst said in her address. “Americans have been hurting, but when we demanded solutions, too often Washington responded with the same stale mindset that led to failed policies like Obamacare.”
Ernst vowed that Republicans will “keep fighting to repeal and replace a health care law that’s hurt so many hardworking families.”
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who also gave a response to Obama’s address, spent a chunk of his time criticizing the health law as well. “Obamacare restricts freedom and must be repealed,” the libertarian senator said.
Many Republicans, of course, have acknowledged that completely doing away with Obamacare would be nearly impossible over these next two years. Some, including Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), chair of the Senate Finance Committee, have hinted at using procedural tools like budget reconciliation to do away with pieces of the law.
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“My preference is to work toward bipartisan solutions. However, we should not, and cannot, take any tool off the table,” Hatch said at the Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday.
Republicans as well as some Democrats have targeted Obamacare’s more unpopular provisions, including the medical device tax and the law’s 30-hour-workweek provision. Bipartisan legislation to repeal or revise these provisions has been filed and will likely be taken up early this year.
Other lawmakers on the far right say, however, that full repeal of the law is realistic. Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) introduced legislation last week to do just that. “Instead of waiting until costs become completely unbearable, it makes sense to flat-out repeal Obamacare,” he said in a statement. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has also called on the new Republican-controlled Congress to make repealing Obamacare a priority this year.
As Obama made clear Tuesday night, any attempt at repeal while he’s still at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will yield nothing but a veto pen.
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