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Yikes! It's Working!

Florida insurance company enrolling people under the Affordable Care Act.
Florida insurance company enrolling people under the Affordable Care Act.
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

These are tough times for Republicans.

First, their fractious House caucus torpedoed Speaker John Boehner’s plans to push immigration reform through Congress this session. The unwillingness of the House majority to countenance a path to citizenship for undocumented aliens undermines attempts by the national Republican Party to reach out to Latinos, and it probably condemns the party’s presidential candidates to defeat for the foreseeable future.

Then, the same House conference refused to approve raising the debt ceiling, forcing Speaker Boehner to rely on the votes of nearly all Democrats and a handful of Republicans to prevent the nation from defaulting on its debt.

And then, when the debt measure reached the Senate, Senator Ted (I don’t care about the party, I’m just out for my own publicity) Cruz filibustered the bill, forcing Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to vote for cloture, a vote that does not help McConnell in his bid to hold off a tea party challenger in his Kentucky Senate race.

But now comes the worst news of all for Republicans: Obamacare is working! It’s the Republican Party’s worst nightmare.

A status report on the health insurance plan released last week shows that nearly 1.2 million people signed up for insurance last month through the exchanges. January was the first month in which enrollments exceeded projections; the figures indicate that the Web site is now functioning smoothly, for the most part, and that people who need insurance are taking advantage of the new program.

Even worse for Republicans is the distribution of new enrollees: 27 percent are between the ages of 18 and 34, a three percent increase over the first three months. Obamacare’s success rests on a sizable number of young, healthy enrollees to prevent a spike in insurance premiums.

Wait! There’s more bad news for Republicans on Obamcare. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office now projects that six million people will buy insurance through the ACA by the end of the initial enrollment period, ending March 31, down a million from the pre-launch estimate of seven million, but not bad considering the botched launch.

Republicans, of course, will run against Obamacare in 2014 (they don’t have much else to tout). The ACA remains unpopular in some areas and a potential political liability, particularly for Democrats running for reelection in red states. But even on the question of the insurance plan’s popularity, there is some good news for Democrats. A CBS News poll conducted last months shows that 56 percent of respondents believe the law contains some good provisions, and that it should be amended to make it work better. Only 34 percent believe the law should be repealed entirely, a cautionary statistic for anti-Obamacare Republicans.

Armed with that information, many Democrats — especially those vulnerable to attacks on Obamacare — are running on a message of “fix, but do not repeal” health insurance. Typical is an ad for Alex Sink, a Democrat running for Congress in Florida, in which the candidate looks at the camera and says, “Instead of repealing the health care law, we need to keep what’s right and fix what’s wrong.”

Some Democrats warn against carrying that message too far. Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy says, “Democrats have been way too defensive about the health care bill, and as the Web site becomes fully operational and the cost savings numbers continue to mount, I think we should essentially be letting our guard down and start talking about the fact that this is working,”

2014 may be a tad too early for that appeal, but it’s a good bet that by the next presidential election the Democratic candidate may well invoke Barack Obama by saying “he gave us health insurance.”

It just gets tougher and tougher for Republicans.

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