Speaking from the Rose Garden behind a presumably-empty White House, President Obama on Tuesday afternoon highlighted the launch of the Obamacare insurance exchanges — despite the "Republican shutdown." "The irony that the House Republicans will have to contend with," he said, "is they've shut down whole parts of government, but the Affordable Care Act is still open for business."
The speech, one in a recent series of attempts by Obama to offer his position on the on-going budget dispute, was one of the most pointed against his political opponents. He began by tying the shutdown to opposition to his health care reform.
One faction, of one branch of government shut down major parts of the government all because they didn't like one law. This republican shutdown did not need to happen. But I want every American to understand why it did happen. Republicans in the House of Representatives refused to fund the government unless we defunded or dismantled the Affordable Care Act. They've shut down the federal government to deny health insurance to millions of Americans. In other words, they demanded ransom just for doing their job.
The president, noting glitches in the roll-out of Healthcare.gov, the site allowing sign-ups into the government health exchanges, compared those problems to the launch of Apple's iOS 7. "I don't remember anybody suggesting that Apple stop selling iPhones or iPads or threaten to shut down the company." (His Secretary of Health and Human Services used this argument yesterday.)
Insurance, the president reiterated while standing in front of a diverse group of people, saves lives. The people behind him were Obamacare success stories: getting insurance despite a preexisting condition, getting a rebate on insurance, children who stayed on their parents' plans. "This is life or death stuff. Tens of thousands of Americans die each year just because they don't have health insurance. … Today we begin to free millions of American from that fear."
Even while Congress struggles with the effects of the shutdown, the president reminded his audience that a bigger fight was looming: the need to raise the debt ceiling by October 17. That vote wouldn't raise the debt itself, as we've noted in the past — it simply allows the government to borrow money to pay off its existing debts. The president put it more plainly. "If you buy a car and you have a car note, you do not save money by not paying your car note. You're just a deadbeat."
He also rebutted his opponents' claims that Obamacare was a disaster — claims that predate the existence of the new exchanges. "There are no death panels. Costs haven't skyrocketed, they're growing at the slowest rate in 50 years. … And contrary to Republican claims, this law isn't destroying our economy." If anything, he suggested, it's the shutdown that promises to threaten the economy. "Of course, a lot of the Republicans in the House ran for office two years ago promising to shut down the government," he said near the end of his remarks. "Apparently they've now gotten their wish."