2016, Affordable Care Act, healthcare, Obamacare — February 17, 2016 at 11:40 am

Jim Messina on healthcare and the 2016 election


A few words from the legendary Democratic strategist on the fate of healthcare reform in this election.

When you’re offered a few minutes to speak with someone like Jim Messina, you take it. As campaign manager for Obama 2012, Messina is considered the mastermind behind President Obama’s 2012 re-election. He also served as Deputy Chief of Staff for President Obama from 2009 to 2011, and is national chair of Organizing for Action and president and CEO of The Messina Group.

In advance of a visit to Michigan for Michigan State University’s Michigan Political Leadership Program (MPLP) dinner and breakfast on March 3 and 4, I had a chance to ask Messina a few questions.

I focused in on healthcare, which continues to be a highly charged topic, both in the primary election and headed into the general election when the Democratic and Republican nominees will face off.

To start, I asked Messina for his views on the visions for continued healthcare reform presented by Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Here’s what Messina had to say.

Bernie Sanders is doing a very interesting political play, trying to run against Barack Obama. He’s out there taking shots at Obamacare and saying we need a single-payer system, when a huge number of Democrats — and especially in Michigan — fought so very hard to pass Obamacare. Millions of people now have coverage, and better coverage, and much better guarantees and rights and access to preventive care. Bernie seems to be trying to pick a fight with it and, really, it’s one of the most confusing political moves I’ve seen recently.

On the other hand, you’ve got Secretary Clinton, who has been working on these issues since the 1990s and understands them very well, can speak very authentically. I was in the Oval Office branch when the President signed the bill and watched Secretary Clinton hug him and congratulate him on the law’s passage. She knew how hard this was. And I think she is doing a very good job talking about her support for it and how we can strengthen it. I think that’s a very reasonable discussion.

Then I asked a question that has been nagging at me — and one I haven’t yet seen a good answer to: Does Bernie Sanders’ support of a single-payer system, or Medicare for All, necessarily mean unraveling the admittedly excellent progress we’ve made under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare? It’s a claim many people have made, including Hillary Clinton, and I’m not convinced that moving to a single-payer system and upholding the advances of the ACA are mutually exclusive.

Here’s Messina’s take:

I, like many Democrats, started out the healthcare discussion really wanting us to look at single-payer. When I was at the White House and we were looking at the healthcare bill, we spent a lot of time looking at the past. The fact is when Social Security was first passed, it expanded greatly. When Medicare was first passed, it expanded greatly. And the same can be true with Obamacare. I think you’re already seeing people wanting to add to it.

It took us 70 years to pass healthcare reform in the United States. And I think we need to make sure we protect it and strengthen it. Because you have an opposition party — the Republican Party — that’s doing everything they can to rip the thing apart. So we’ve got to be clear. We can be mad about the politics of single-payer healthcare in the United States, but the political reality is that we need to build on Obamacare.

Whether Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton becomes the Democratic nominee, there’s no question that they will both fight to protect Americans’ access to affordable healthcare, something the Republican nominees are clearly not interested in doing. As Messina articulated so well, “The modern Republican Party right now is defined by two things: their hatred for Barack Obama and healthcare.”

It’s no secret that Republicans are pledging to repeal Obamacare, yet not one of the candidates has put forth any sort of replacement. Perhaps that’s why Messina told me, without hesitation, that he does not think the ACA will be repealed regardless of the outcome of the 2016 election.

They’re talking about repeal every day, and they’ll absolutely try. They’ve held all these votes to repeal Obamacare in the House already — instead of passing the infrastructure bill and a bill to create jobs — they’re trying to screw with Obamacare because they think it’s great politics.

But the truth is that Americans want to end partisanship and work to expand Obamacare. And that’s what we’re going to get.

If you’d like to hear more from Messina, join him and Karl Rove, President George W. Bush’s senior adviser and Deputy Chief of Staff, at MSU’s Michigan Political Leadership Program dinner and breakfast on March 3 and 4.

MPLP is one of the nation’s premier political leadership programs, training 24
competitively chosen Fellows each year to take part in 10 months of a specially designed
leadership curriculum. This year marks the 21st annual MPLP dinner and 14th annual MPLP breakfast. Learn more and order tickets HERE.

[Photo credit: Courtesy photo.]