WASHINGTON — Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday held up a Brooklyn Park couple and their son William as examples of why the health reform law is working, while Republicans like Tim Pawlenty and John Kline amped up calls to repeal or defund the law.
Why all the attention on a Wednesday in March? Because it’s the health reform law’s first birthday.
The couple, Justin and Kari Ihle, have three children. Their 3-year-old William was born with tuberous sclerosis complex, described by the Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance as “a genetic disorder that causes tumors to form in many different organs, primarily in the brain, eyes, heart, kidney, skin and lungs.”
“Before the Affordable Care Act, Justin and Kari weren’t sure about the future,” Biden wrote in a letter to supporters of the Democratic National Committee. “They worried that they’d never be able to find coverage for William again if Justin lost his job. They worried about the life that William would lead — whether he’d ever be able to work or support a family.
“Not anymore. William’s condition isn’t going away, but he’ll always be able to get care. The Affordable Care Act is one year old today, and it has already changed William’s life — and this country — for good.”
The health care law is perhaps the most controversial piece of legislation to come out of Washington in recent memory, and because it won’t be fully implemented until 2014 (and aims to change national health care habits, which will take years beyond that), a neutral, comprehensive assessment of its overall accomplishments and drawbacks won’t be available for some time.
Certainly, parts of the initial implementation, such as ensuring that kids with pre-existing conditions must be covered, and allowing young adults up to age 26 to remain on parents’ health insurance plans, seem to have gone without much of a hitch.
However, the implementation has been marred by more than 1,000 waivers from the law, sparking pushback from Republicans who have complained (and filed a lawsuit) alleging favorable treatment in the waiver process. One of Michele Bachmann’s best-received lines on the presidential trail is that she wants a waiver, too, and thinks everyone deserves a waiver.
Meanwhile, several cases on the constitutionality of the law’s individual insurance mandate are winding their way through the courts, with the expected destination being the U.S. Supreme Court. Most challenges to the law have been dismissed, but of the five judges who have ruled on the case, three ruled the law was constitutional, the fourth said the mandate wasn’t but the rest was, and a fifth threw out the whole thing.
So with administration officials pressing forward on implementation while the court cases play out, Wednesday was a chance for allies and adversaries to press their case.
Republicans vow repeal
Presidential aspirant Tim Pawlenty, calling the law “one of the most flawed and misguided laws in modern history,” said if those court challenges aren’t successful, and if he wins the White House in 2012, “as President, I would support the immediate repeal of Obamacare and replace it with market-based health care reforms.”
The Republican-led House of Representatives has already approved a bill repealing the law, and another one calling for its replacement, though both are considered dead in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
Rep. John Kline, head of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, will be among those working on an alternative plan that GOP leaders have said will come forward later this session.
Kline, in a statement Wednesday, said he was “determined to repeal ObamaCare and replace it with commonsense solutions that reduce costs without increasing the size of the federal government.”
Rep. Chip Cravaack, whose 2010 upset election over Jim Oberstar came amid backlash over the health reform law, said Wednesday that “report after report has shown Obamacare will cost significantly more than we were told, kill jobs, raise taxes, expand government control and increase the cost of health care for northeast Minnesotans.
“In response, my colleagues and I in the House passed a simple, two-page bill to repeal this legislation and begin the process of replacing it with true reforms that will expand coverage while at the same time cutting costs to consumers. I will continue to fight against the folly of Obamacare and for common sense solutions to issues within our health care system.”
Rep. Michele Bachmann has gone a step further, leading a small-but-growing defection on the right side of the House Republican caucus who say they’ll oppose every federal budget bill from here forward until the health care law is defunded.
Democrats try throwing a birthday party
To illustrate the Democratic counter to these arguments, let me close with a story. I’m walking into the Russell Senate Office Building Wednesday morning, en route to MinnPost’s D.C. HQ in the Capitol, and in front of me in the security line is a group of young adults with cupcakes.
For security’s sake, everything one carries into the Capitol complex has to get run on a conveyor belt through an X-ray machine, while you yourself pass through a metal detector. Problem is, loosely packed cupcakes are unstable things, and they don’t have the heft to move through that bristle curtain on the machine that separates the scanning area from the outside.
A good two minutes go by while the group’s leaders try to figure out how to move these cupcakes through the machine before, sure enough, they’re just pushed inside. Inevitably, they came out the other end toppled half over, with frosting that was once neatly arranged now slightly smudged, much to the horror of the young lady in charge of the operation and the general bemusement of the Capitol police officers, who couldn’t figure out why in the world people were bringing in cupcakes to the Capitol on a Wednesday morning.
So they asked her, and the young lady replied: “Because it’s the birthday of the health reform law, so we brought cupcakes for the senators to celebrate.”
Though no one had the heart to tell the young lady that the Senate is on recess this week, and thus Amy Klobuchar, Al Franken and 98 others won’t get their chocolate cupcakes, her group’s idea is illustrative of Democratic efforts to turn March 23 into a celebration, not a liability.
And a key part of that is trying to humanize the debate. That’s where the Ihle family comes in.
“We’ve noticed that when we talk about health care reform in a very personal way, about how it’s affecting us, that people have a much different reaction than just a general conversation,” Justin Ihle said in a video accompanying Biden’s message. “It makes us feel better because it helps him,” Joe said, patting his son William on the head, while Kari added, “It gives him a better future.”