Alaska Senator Mark Begich (D-AK) held two town hall meetings in Anchorage earlier this week and pledged his unwavering support for the unpopular Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare.”) The Obamacare raiment will prove a heavy weight to bear as he enters the re-election season of 2014.
A question regarding the measure at the first town hall held Wednesday night at Campbell Elementary School drew the most lively response from the crowd. Despite the strong sentiment expressed against the law, Senator Begich emphatically promised those in attendance, “If you’re thinking it’s going to get repealed. Whoever tells you that ain’t giving you the truth. It’s not going to get repealed.”
Begich went on to state he would work to repair or replace unpopular portions of the ACA such as the tax on “Cadillac” plans and that he had already voted to repeal a tax on manufacturers of medical devices.
The Senator will have his work cut out for him taking this approach however because the Affordable Care Act itself is very unpopular. A recent CBS News poll found 54 percent of Americans disapprove of the law, while only 36 percent approve.
Begich sought to identify with those in attendance saying, “Just as you do, I [will] join the exchange come October 1st. I have to join it just like everyone else.” What he failed to mention is that members of Congress and their staffs have generous healthcare premium support plans already in place covering much of the cost, thereby exempting themselves from the rate shock most Americans will feel.
The overall estimated cost of Affordable Care Act to American taxpayers over the first 10 years has ballooned from the $0.9 trillion promised by President Obama in 2009 to a CBO projected cost of $2.6 trillion earlier this year.
The high cost is not the only thing causing grave misgivings about Obamacare among the American people. At a second town hall event at the Anchorage Senior Center, a grandmother expressed a concern many have regarding the ACA’s employer mandate, which dictates that businesses with fifty or more employees must fulfill all the law’s requirements. She believes Obamacare will make it harder for her grandchildren and others to find full-time employment.
The evidence appears to be on her side. A CNBC poll of small business owners earlier this summer found 41 percent have frozen hiring because of the law and 38 percent indicated they have pulled back on plans to expand. Begich admitted at the town hall that the ACA incentivizes underemployment by moving people from full to part-time.
At both town hall events, Begich took great pains to point out he is doing everything he can to fix what ails Obamacare. He ballyhooed legislation he introduced last month to delay the employer mandate for two years rather than the one year promised by the President. In other words, the Senator wants to pass legislation to save Alaskans (temporarily) from the ill-effects of the law he voted whole-heartedly to pass. Of course, this magnanimous gesture by the first-term senator would conveniently push the job-killing effects of the ACA until after next year’s re-election cycle.
Senator Begich knows he is vulnerable in 2014. His seat is among those judged to be in-play. A recent survey by the liberal leaning Public Policy Polling showed his job approval at a paltry 42 percent, down from 49 percent in February. This precipitous drop comes in spite of a statewide paid media push over the last several months and before the first salvo of the 2014 campaign has even been fired.
A vital measure of congressional leadership must be foresight: the ability to see a train wreck before it happens. By this standard, Senator Begich misses the mark. Rather than accepting the Senator’s small gestures of Affordable Care Act relief, Alaskans would do well to relieve themselves entirely of his services come next November.