All-Star Panel: Will ObamaCare help or hurt Dems in midterm elections?

'Special Report' All-Star panel weighs in


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," April 17, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The bottom line is, under the Affordable Care Act, the share of Americans with insurance is up, the growth of health care costs is down, this thing is working. I know that every American isn't going to agree with this law, but I think we can agree that it's well passed time to move on as a country and refocus our energy on the issues that the American people are most concerned about, and that continues to be the economy.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: President Obama this afternoon spent a lot of the news conference at the White House talking about ObamaCare, saying this thing is working.  It's interesting that the Affordable Care Act, its official name, is the focus of a couple of editorials. The Wall Street Journal writing, "Republican leaders are telling the party's House members that persistent criticism of the federal health care law is the best path to victory this fall regardless of how the law's implementation evolves ahead of the November elections."

Meanwhile, the National Journal writes, "Critics still promise that the law cannot work as intended, but the evidence keeps piling up in the other direction. The opportunities for failure keep falling away, and worst case predictions keep going bust." Obviously the president agrees with that version. Let's see what our panel thinks, syndicated columnist George Will, author of the new book, "A Nice Little Place on the North Side," Mara Liasson, National Political Correspondent of National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, who also happens to have a book, but we're talking about George's now. George, what about this?

GEORGE WILL, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: On one thing, the president is quite right. The Democrats ought to say the Affordable Care Act is what we are, continent-wide, imposed from Washington, top-down reform that involves a tapestry of taxes, mandates, and other coercions.

Aside from that, his performance today had the four basic Obama rhetorical tropes. First you attack a strong man. He said Republicans said no one would sign up. Of course no Republican ever said any such thing. Then you declare the debate over. The debate on climate change is over, everyone be quiet. The debate on universal preschool is over, everyone be quiet. Gay marriage, everyone be quiet. Now this debate is supposedly over.

Then he says it's working. It's hard to know what that means because the ethanol program which subtracts from the public good in a variety of ways is working in the sense that it's being implemented as set into the law. Sugar import quotas, the same thing -- it's working but it's not good for everybody.

Finally, the standard there can be no honorable and intelligent disagreement with me. States that have not expanded Medicaid are doing it out of spite because of him, because he says it will not cost them a dime.  It won't cost them a dime for three years. After that it will cost them a mountain of dimes. So it was a basic tour de force of Obama rhetoric.

BAIER: Mara, he listed all of these stats that he has. Is this helping red state Democrats?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Well, I think what he's trying to do is establish a lot of facts on the ground that are going to be hard to reverse. But he said two contradictory things. He did say let's move on, let's not talk about it anymore. But then he also said, I don't think the Democrats should apologize or be defensive about it. This is a strong, good story to tell. So he wants them to defend it even though he doesn't want to talk about it anymore.

So I think what endangered Democrats have been doing -- they've sticking to this fix it, don't nix it, or mend it, don't end it argument that it needs improvement but they're not running away from it. And I do think that having 8 million people signed up plus or minus a little, plus the Medicaid expansion makes it more imperative for Republicans to say what they would put in its place, not just let's get rid of it and kick 13 million people off of health care.

BAIER: But some of these stats need to be challenged a little.

LIASSON: They may not be real. We don't know yet.

BAIER: For example, today he cited the CBO, the Congressional Budget Office. And he said, "Now the CBO says the Affordable Care Act will be cheaper than recently projected." But here's what the CBO said about this. "The plans are being offered through the exchanges this year appear to have in general lower payment rates for providers, meaning doctors and hospitals, narrower networks of providers, and tighter management of their subscribers use of health care than employment based plans do. Although lower premiums will tend to increase enrollment, narrower networks and more tightly managed benefits will reduce the attractiveness of the plans and thereby decrease enrollment. The net effect on projected enrollment in the exchanges is small," meaning, interpreting that they're saying we thought that these plans were going to be exactly the same as the employment plans, but they're not.  So the costs are going to go down and we think premiums will go down too because fewer people will find these attractive.

LIASSON: Yes. Although that also -- if fewer people buy them, premiums may have to go up because then you only have sick people buying them. It's pretty complicated.

BAIER: But the CBO has this whole paragraph on this.

LIASSON: That's right. That the nature of the coverage was not what they first assumed, and that's one of the reasons why it turns out to be cheaper.

BAIER: Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, everybody is getting a worse deal. If the providers are, that means the doctors aren't getting their usual payments, which means they have to see much more patients which means they spend less time, which means that the care is inferior. That means hospitals are reimbursed at a lower rates, which means some of them will go out of business or they're going to have to consolidate so there will be less choices. And thus, the consumer in the end is the one who gets hurt because the only way that insurance can keep the costs down on premiums is to restrict the choices and to restrict the network, which is exactly what they are doing.


BAIER: So when you hear the president say this thing is working --

KRAUTHAMMER: Look, it's working in that it exists. It breathes. But if it's hurting the doctor, it's hurting the hospital, it's hurting the patient, it's hurting the economy, it's going to cost a fortune -- I love the way the president says health care costs are reduced, as if there is any relationship between a reduction which occurred during a recession and a health care implementation which occurs today. So it couldn't possibly have retroactively affected last year's numbers. I mean, he makes this stuff up with the brazenness that is almost admirable.

BAIER: Is it believable across the board? Is it having an effect? Is it sinking in for enough for an election that this suddenly becomes less of an issue and like the Wall Street Journal says do Republicans only focus on this because they see it as electoral gold?

WILL: Well, I guess the question is, will the American people say, we think we don't like it but I guess we really do because the president says it's working? And I don't think that's how public opinion is formed in this country. Again, the Republicans may be working that pedal on the organ too much exclusively, the ObamaCare organ. I think they are. It's a long time to go to November just talking about this.

On the other hand, I think Republicans today are rejoicing that the president has said pick up your spear and charge that windmill and defend ObamaCare.

KRAUTHAMMER: I think it's an organ that is worth playing day and night.  Which is going to have more effect on the voter, Obama in a press conference in a holiday week say -- throwing out a number, 8 million, which means nothing, we're not even sure what that number means, or knowing somebody in your family or you losing health insurance, having your hours reduced so your employer can call you part time, losing your job, losing hours, all of this stuff affecting you personally? Even if the numbers between the approvers and disapprovers narrows, the intensity of those who oppose it because of real life effects, higher premiums, higher deductibles, narrower networks, that is real stuff. All the other stuff is theoretical stuff.  The intensity is so much more on the anti-side. I think it's a rout.

BAIER: Mara, does this administration and do senior Democrats believe really what the president says, don't run away from health care, embrace it, and focus on Republicans' efforts to repeal it?

LIASSON: I think that he's putting it a little more strongly than most Democrats would. Most Democrats understand, they have no choice. They can't run away from it. Most of them voted for it. That's really different from embracing and running on it.

But I do think Democrats are hopeful that this has bottomed out. It isn't going to get worse. In other words, the intensity of the opposition will stay where it is, they don't think it will get better, but they've got bigger than they expected enrollment. That's a good fact for them. And they're hoping that some of this dissipates just a little by Election Day.  All we're talking about, by the way, in November is whether or not the Democrats can hang on to the Senate. Can they prevent Republicans from getting six or more pickups? That's really what we're talking about.

BAIER: It just depends on how many people go to the doctor and feel not good things.

WILL: The Republicans believe that there's never been a get out the vote machine comparable to ObamaCare.

KRAUTHAMMER: It will depend on how many people with a sick child are going to drive past the hospital that used to treat them but is no longer in the network for miles and miles until they reach a hospital that is on their network. Every one of those is going to become a Republican voter.

BAIER: Next up, a deal on Ukraine, or not.

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