For six months, opponents of the Affordable Care Act were absolutely certain that the law had entered a "death spiral." Enrollment totals would never reach their targets, conservatives said, and the catastrophic collapse of the entire system was imminent.
Now that we know those predictions were wrong, it's time to play "Let's Move The Goalposts."
On Fox News yesterday afternoon, for example, one talking point seemed especially popular:
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER: You've got to ask yourself, the price we have paid, the estimate is 1 million to 1.5 million of these people were uninsured before. The whole idea was insuring the uninsured. That's going to leave about 40 million uninsured. [...] ERIC BOLLING: There's still going to be 40 million people -- 40 million people still uninsured at the end of the year. [...] DANA PERINO: [T]here are still 40 million uninsured after basically taking a wrecking ball to the insurers.
Hmm. The old argument from the right was, "Stop trying to cover the uninsured." The new argument, apparently, is, "Obamacare isn't going far enough to cover the uninsured." Maybe conservatives are suddenly disappointed the ACA isn't a more ambitious effort to expand coverage? What a pleasant change of pace.
There are, of course, some factual problems here. First, at least 9.5 million
previously uninsured people have gained coverage, not 1.5 million as Krauthammer claimed. Second, no one has taken a wrecking ball to the private insurance industry -- they just picked up 7.1 million new customers.
But even more important is the fact that the single biggest hindrance to expanding coverage to the uninsured is Republican governors in red states blocking Medicaid expansion. That's not conjecture; it's what the CBO has already documented
In other words, Krauthammer, Bolling, and Perino, while trying desperately to turn lemonade into lemons, inadvertently blasted their own allies, instead of their opponents.
Of course, the point isn't to pick on three Fox pundits, but rather, to use this as example of the larger phenomenon. The ACA's detractors, up until recently a confident bunch, eager to celebrate failure, are scrambling to move the goalposts precisely because reality ended up catching them by surprise. David Nather summarized
the line from Obamacare critics this way: "Homina, homina, homina."
Back in the fall, conservatives seized on the flubbed Obamacare rollout as proof that President Barack Obama's brand of liberalism doesn't work. Now, the law's opponents aren't about to say that critique was wrong -- but they've lost the best evidence they had.
Usually, the right is better at coming up with effective talking points in advance, but like President Obama's re-election, the ACA's success is a development conservatives just didn't see coming.