In a wide-ranging interview with Vox wunderkind Ezra Klein, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi makes two big statements about Obamacare. First, she calls the Affordable Care Act a “wash” politically, and states that Democrats won’t be running “on or from it.” She then goes on to say that Democrats “stand ready to improve it as we see how it is implemented, not to let it be ‘repeal or retain’ but to have the Affordable Care Act and improve upon it.” When Klein asks her how she’d like to see it improved, she mentions she’s always favored a single payer system, as well as a public option.This interview is very revealing. While individual Democrats may campaign on the ACA if they think their districts favor it, the party as a whole hopes to put the law aside and take up issues more likely to win them votes. Klein sums up the implications here:
If you had told most Democrats in 2010 that by the time the 2014 election rolled around Obamacare would have rolled out with lower premiums and higher enrollment than anyone projected they would have been thrilled. They knew when they passed the law that it was going to be a political loser in the 2010 election but they figured that if they could just get it up-and-running — and insuring millions of people — it would be a winner in future elections. And perhaps it will be. But the definition of “future” keeps getting pushed out. Obamacare is working, but not for Democrats.
Though Pelosi says they won’t run “on or from” the ACA, Democrats’ decision not to champion this signature piece of legislation is effectively a repudiation of it.Either way, the GOP won’t let Democrats forget about Obamacare. Republicans intend to make the ACA the defining issue of the midterm. We’ve said from the beginning that the future of the Democratic Party is bound up with how this law performs politically. Vulnerable Democrats won’t just be able to put it to one side; they will need to have answers when the GOP challenges them over the issue. They could take a lesson from Pelosi’s interview, and talk about building on the law’s successes. In doing so, they could also endorse a pivot to a single payer system, as Pelosi seems to want. The idea has been floating around on the edges of liberal discourse for some time, but a major politician mentioning it is big news.But if Democrats stop short of that, what will they propose? Will they advocate repealing the employer mandate, as Klein himself has suggested? Will they poach some conservative ideas like allowing insurance to be bought across state lines or mandating only catastrophic—not comprehensive—coverage? We don’t know, because Democrats have talked far less about how they would improve Obamacare than Republicans have talked about how they would replace it.