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Enrollment Numbers Put Obamacare Battle To Rest?


This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Now it's time for our political chat. This week there's a lot to talk about. The Supreme Court struck down some campaign contribution limits. The White House beat it's a goal of 7 million Americans signed up for coverage through the Affordable Care Act, and Republican Congressman Paul Ryan debuted his own budget proposal, something that could be a blueprint for a White House run in 2016. So joining us to help us unpack those political headlights is Corey Dade.

He is a contributing editor for The Root. That's an online publication that focuses on issues of particular interest to African Americans. And he writes their political blog, "The Take." Welcome back, Corey Dade.

COREY DADE: Hi, Michel.

MARTIN: Also with us, Lenny McAllister - he is a contributor to 4802: Final Friday. That's the news roundtable on WQED in Pittsburgh. He's also a Republican strategist and a once, and probably future, Republican candidate. Lenny, welcome back to you, as well.

LENNY MCALLISTER: Thanks for having me, Michel.

MARTIN: And I want to start with campaign finance in McCutcheon versus the Federal Election Commission. The Supreme Court struck down limits on how much money an individual can donate to political candidates. It was a 5 to 4 vote, and the prevailing majority said that the limits violate free speech rights.

Lenny, I am interested in your perspective on this, particularly as a person who's run for office yourself. The Republican leadership seems very excited about this, the Republican National Committee chair applauding the decision, among other sort of top Republican leaders. I was interested in how you see it.

MCALLISTER: I'm not excited about it. I wasn't excited about Citizens United, in 2010, either. I think that if you look at it from a grassroots, everyday American perspective, this only exemplifies why people are fearful of politics and big politics. And why many people are apathetic towards politics because basically what we're saying is that although we talk about the land of the free and the home of the brave, it really is about who has the gold.

I mean, truth of the matter is, what we found out over the last couple years, is that corporations are people. And now money is speech which means that anybody who is part of a corporation and/or has the money is now more of a citizen than other citizens that don't have those same economic privileges. And that's really all this is. This is just an aspect of capitalism, not an aspect of the American fabric. I think it's a very bad decision, and I look forward to the day where money does not play as much of a role in American politics as it does right now.

MARTIN: But let me just ask you this, though. Why, then, is the leadership of your party so - seem to be so supportive of this, you know, point of view?

MCALLISTER: I wish I can answer that question as full as it probably needs to be answered. I mean, it pretty much is along the same vein of why does my party still have a hard time talking to minorities? Why does my party still have a hard time winning votes in urban environments? Why does my party still look to only win red areas and wonder why they can't win a White House over the last several years? It's pretty much along the same vein.

I would think, unfortunately - I would think, to be honest with you, Michel, that they would look at this and say that there is good and bad about this decision. But truth of the matter is, they realize that they can't win in some of these areas. So they're going to have to outspend in some of these areas in order to soften the blow in regards to the bad Republican brand that's been out there. And I think, unfortunately, again that this is the wrong approach to turning around the political dynamic that we face as Republicans.

MARTIN: OK. Well, Corey Dade, let's take the other side of that question, though. I mean, the Democrats have been - generally, the Democratic leadership has been very critical of this decision.

On the other hand, I mean, the conventional wisdom has been that big money in politics mostly benefits Republicans. But other people would look at the results of the 2012 election. Present Obama both won the money race and election. So why, then, are the Democrats so uniformly negative about this?

DADE: Michel, because about 57 percent of this money goes toward Republican candidates and Republican causes, and that leaves the rest going to Democrats. So Democratic causes and Democratic candidates are going to lose out.

The reason why the Republican Party is excited about this is because this allows the party and their committees and candidates to actually go into the pockets of donors more deeply than before.

MARTIN: Well, doesn't it - it also allows Democrats to do the same thing, doesn't it?

DADE: Right. But I'm just answering the specific question why the Republican Party is excited about. For both parties, it allows them to actually sort of try to get some of that money back that's been going toward the Independent outside groups.

And so they look at it as an opportunity to actually put together more money that they can actually leverage into state committees at the state level, but also to try to beat back some of the ad wars that the Independent groups have been hitting candidates with on each side.

MARTIN: And so they feel that it's an opportunity for them to impose more party discipline? Is that it?

DADE: I wouldn't say party discipline. I think it's an idea that - it allows the parties to actually take more control of their messaging away from the outside groups.

MARTIN: OK. Well, let's turn to another dramatic moment in national politics. And if you're just joining us, we're having our weekly political chat with Corey Dade of The Root and Republican strategist and commentator Lenny McAllister.

Let's - the White House says it beat its goal for sign ups to the Affordable Care Act. This is the President Obama at a Rose Garden press conference. This is the day after the open enrollment deadline.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Despite several lost weeks out of the gate because of problems with the website, 7.1 million Americans have now signed up for private insurance plans through these marketplaces.

MARTIN: So you were saying, Corey, you were telling us earlier that this is - for the president who is known for his cool and his emotional reserve, this is the equivalent of spiking the ball and dancing in the end zone. So tell us about that.

DADE: Yeah. It's about, you know, the White House - when you talk to people who have been in the White House and who have left, you know, what they will say is that, you know, given the legislative victories that Obama has had over the years, one thing that they've always kind of been frustrated about is that number one, Obama is not someone who celebrates a lot. But number two, every time they have a victory, there's some big calamity that comes right after - the BP oil spill or something like that.

So this is one of the few times that he was able to actually go out and sort of wave the flag of victory quote-unquote. But, you know, this was really, more than anything, a political message to Democrats. This was an effort on his part to tell his party stop being a punk, basically. Step up. This is a victory. Now you guys can run on this. Defend this law. This law is the law of the land now. We hit our mark.

Now if you want to keep the Senate - if we want to keep the Senate, you all have to defend this law. And what you're trying - what you're seeing is in certain heavily contested races, like the Senate race in North Carolina and elsewhere, Democratic candidates are now cutting ads that are more aggressive in defending the health care law.

MARTIN: Lenny McAllister, what do you think about that? Does this mean that the battle over Obamacare will be over? That Republicans - are there prepared to concede?

MCALLISTER: No. And I was surprised that President Obama didn't go into the White House basement and go get George W. Bush's mission accomplished banner and put it up in the Rose Garden.

MARTIN: Because you think it has about the same meaning? Is that what you're saying?

MCALLISTER: Yeah. And on top of that, I mean, you're still looking at rising premiums. You're still talking about upwards of 20 percent that have not paid a premium yet. So let's say 10 percent of those people don't pay a premium, and they drop out. You're not at 7 million anymore. You still don't have the invincibles that you need signing up with the clips that you need them to sign up to make this buoyant.

There's still plenty of administrative problems. So to sit there and claim an artificial number, and say we hit our mark, this is going to work - hey, Democrats, go out there and run on this law that is still extremely unpopular, that was passed in a very partisan way and you're vulnerable for the next two years or six-year term over this - it's very, very unrealistic. This is exactly what President Obama does - he has a tendency to throw other Democrats underneath the bus.

He did it in 2010, right after they lost the midterms. They threw them right underneath the bus during a lame-duck session, he's in the process of doing it again. And if Democrats want to defend Obamacare and try to defend this economy, the Republicans will control the Senate and the House of Representatives starting in January.

MARTIN: All right, well, let's try to get one other issue in here, which is Republican Congressman Paul Ryan released his budget plan this week. It includes a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, it cuts a number of domestic programs. Because the 2015 spending levels have already been set, some observers say Ryan's budget is actually a political statement more than a real spending plan. But the question is, is this something that - Lenny - Republicans can run on in 2014?

MCALLISTER: They can run to their base with this, but if you're talking about the types of initiatives that they claim to talk about as far as getting people out of poverty, talking to minorities, trying to reclaim some of the vulnerable suburban and even urban constituencies, they're going to have to put policies into place - tax policies, spending policies, budget policies -that show working class Americans that have been struggling in this economy how to bring prosperity back to their communities. And this budget plan does not do that as well as it needs to do that.

MARTIN: Lenny - I'm sorry - Corey, final thought from you. President Obama has been on the road making a case for raising the federal minimum wage. Other people are saying the same thing about that - that they're saying about the Ryan budget, which is that this is probably a nonstarter in this Congress. So that's more of a political statement, you know, as well, but something for Democrats to run on. What's your perspective on that?

DADE: I think it is absolutely a political effort on the part of Obama. You know, the Democrats are looking for - their biggest issue, as Lenny mentioned, their biggest issue isn't so much Obamacare, it's the economy. And Obama's approval ratings aren't so much hurting simply due to Obamacare, but the economy. So the minimum wage argument is an effort to sort of try to turn that around for the party.

But it is a nonstarter in the House even though politically it plays well across the board - Republicans, Democrats, independents, everyone - the majority of Americans are behind the rise of the minimum wage. What they're hoping is that messaging gets people out, but really, you know, in a midterm and other elections, the main thing that gets people out is anger. And the Democrats aren't selling anger right now.

MARTIN: Well, tell me a little bit more - and we have about a minute left - I want to give you the last word here about Lenny's point of view on the Ryan budget - do you take the similar view of it? What is your perspective on it?

DADE: Well, I do think the Ryan budget is really a political manifesto for the conservatives. This budget will not play in heavily contested states where you need sort of a moderate view. I think it has enough in there that Democrats will try to use to pick apart - for example, the idea of privatizing part of Medicare for people who are 55 years and older - that is red meat to Democrats.

MARTIN: OK. Corey Dade is a contributing editor for The Root, he's author of their politics blog "The Take." He joined us here in our Washington, D.C. studios. Joining us from member station WESA in Pittsburgh is Lenny McAllister. He is a Republican strategist and contributor to the news roundtable 4802: Final Friday. That's on WQED in Pittsburgh. Thank you both so much for speaking with us.

DADE: Thank you, Michel.

MCALLISTER: Thank you. God bless. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.