Obama Looks to Keep Liberals in Line on Health Law Ahead of Supreme Court Hearings

Obama Looks to Keep Liberals in Line on Health Law Ahead of Supreme Court Hearings

“On Wednesday, White House officials summoned dozens of leaders of nonprofit organizations that strongly back the health law to help them coordinate plans for a prayer vigil, press conferences and other events outside the court when justices hear arguments for three days beginning March 26.”

-- New York Times reporter Robert Pear writing in today’s paper: “White House Works to Shape Debate Over Health Law.”

Gallup surveyed voters three weeks ago in the dozen swing states that will decide this year’s presidential election and found that the 2010 Democratic health law was still a toxic asset in President Obama’s political portfolio.

In the swing states, 53 percent of registered voters had negative views on the law compared to 38 percent who saw the new slate of regulations, entitlements and welfare benefits positively.

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    Worse, 72 percent in swing states and 69 percent nationally said the law had so far not affected them. The outlook for the future was grim – 34 percent of swing staters said the legislation would not make much difference and 42 percent said the law would make things worse for their family.

    Just 11 percent think the law has helped them already and only 20 percent think that the law will ever do them any good, with identical findings nationally and in swing states. That’s dire.

    This was not the plan. The idea was that the goodies of the law were to be frontloaded so that skeptical voters could be convinced that the “death panel” monstrosity that Republicans and Tea Party activists had described was a myth.

    The unhappy parts of the legislation – mandates, new taxes, additional costs for cash-strapped states, strains on the existing health care system, etc. – were intentionally pushed beyond the 2010 and 2012 election so that voters would come to like the law or at least soften in their opposition to it by the time the tough stuff came.

    The government hired Andy Griffith to tell old timers that Medicare cuts weren’t such a big deal and that nobody would pull the plug on them. The White House endlessly trumpeted to Millennials that they could now stay on their parents’ health insurance until their second decade of adulthood.

    The message from black and white TV’s Sheriff Andy Taylor and Kal Penn of the White House Outreach Office, more familiarly known to the cool kids as ‘Kumar’ : The Obama law is good now, and only getting better. Obama Democrats promised slackening opposition that would eventually turn into acceptance and then, finally, cherishment. The comparison to the creation of Medicare was made over and over again – sure it’s controversial now, but just wait until later.

    Instead, they have found the opposite. Voters think the law is bad now and worse in the future.

    Power Play’s unified political theory of the Obama presidency holds that the health law was not just bad for its unpopular provisions and the shoddy way that it was constructed (remember drug-maker deals and “deem and pass”), but because it consumed most of the president’s attention for more than a year. While voters were justifiably freaked out about the economy, unemployment and deficit spending, Democrats were endlessly debating amongst themselves about the creation of a new social program.

    Unfortunately for the president, in a little more than two weeks, the Supreme Court will begin three days of high-profile arguments on the constitutionality of the law that is his most significant achievement in office.

    In terms of the election, Obama may be better off if the Supremes actually strike down the core component his signature achievement.

    Most Americans believe the law is not constitutional. Gallup found 72 percent of all Americans, including 56 percent of Democrats, thought the provision of the law requiring individuals to purchase private health insurance violated the Constitution.

    If the justices agree with the majority of their fellow Americans when the court renders its decision this summer, it would be embarrassing for the president, who previously taught constitutional law for the University of Illinois.

    But it would also wipe the issue away as a current concern, allowing Obama to promise that he would do better next time before utterly abandoning the issue to focus on Usama bin Laden being dead and General Motors being alive.

    As has been the case on many other topics, the president’s message on a scuttled health law could be that he tried his best but that Republicans, rich dudes and “this town” prevented him from achieving all the goodness he desired. This goes to Obama’s on-the-job-training pitch – that he is more fully aware of the awfulness of his adversaries and now ready to do it right in a second term. And then for the final stretch of the campaign, he could thoroughly ignore the topic.

    If the court affirms Obama’s constitutional judgment, however, the public’s dread of what lies ahead will accelerate. It might be hard for Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney to prosecute the case as a mandate backer in Massachusetts, but there will be plenty of other voices shouting down the idea of the compulsory purchase of private insurance and all the other provisions of the law.

    But the more immediate problem for the president is the impending national media feeding frenzy around the Supreme Court deliberations.

    Days of stories about the law are just ahead and while the opposition is well-mobilized, many liberals still find the law unsatisfying. The left may accept the law as a first step on the path to a government-run insurance program for all Americans, but it’s still kind of a sore subject. Obama, with supermajorities in both houses of Congress, came up with legislation that got the blessing of pharmaceutical companies and big insurance, both major villains to the left.

    The administration is working now with liberal groups to help shape the discussion of the law during the Supreme Court arguments. This isn’t about winning the case, this is about winning the media war. As the discussion turns to the fact that the president’s law mandates millions of new customers for private insurance companies, the administration wants to remind Obama’s political base of all the things for them to like in the law – free contraceptives, the creation of government-run, taxpayer-subsidized insurance exchanges, etc.

    If the White House can keep the left in line during the arguments over one of Democrats’ least-popular parts of the law, it will help avoid some further slippage of the law’s approval ratings. There’s little chance Americans will like the law more after being reminded of it now and again this summer when a decision is rendered, but the president needs to at least keep the left on board.

    The question though, is with Democrats so underwhelmed by the law, whether that is still possible.

    Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com.