White House: Health care anniversary jabs are ‘knuckleheaded’

Olivier Knox

Hitting back at Republicans, White House spokesman Jay Carney on Wednesday dismissed the "knuckleheaded" notion that a lack of hoopla to mark the two-year anniversary of President Barack Obama's landmark health care overhaul showed that the administration is worried about paying a political price for the law.

Aboard Air Force One, Carney told reporters that he takes issue with "the knuckleheaded reporting that suggests or buys the critique that we're somehow not proud of the accomplishment."

Obama signed the Affordable Care Act—mockingly dubbed "Obamacare" by Republicans—two years ago come Friday. To mark the one-year anniversary, the White House released a video of the president placing a surprise telephone call to Michigan State University senior and aspiring doctor Erick Moberg to talk up the law's benefits. The White House also released several memos. And Obama himself very publicly celebrated the law when it passed the 90-day mark in June 2010, with a speech in the White House's ornate East Room.

This year, the White House has decided that such anniversaries are silly inside-the-Beltway rituals. The only health care event on the schedule appears to be when the director of Obama's Domestic Policy Council, Cecilia Muñoz, takes questions about the law on Twitter starting at 2 p.m. ET Friday.

"I don't anticipate a presidential marking of an anniversary that only those who toil inside the Beltway focus on," Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One on Wednesday.

As for the coming Supreme Court arguments that will decide the law's fate, Carney told reporters that the White House is "confident that the individual responsibility provision within the Affordable Care Act is constitutional."

Carney's comments came after Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell mockingly suggested that Obama was embarrassed about a law often described as his signature domestic policy achievement.

"You wouldn't know it based on the president's schedule this week. For a president who isn't particularly shy about taking credit even for things he didn't have a whole lot to do with, he's curiously silent this week about a bill he talked about for more than a year before it passed. According to news reports, the president doesn't even plan to mark the occasion," McConnell said on the Senate floor.

Republicans have made no secret that they plan to use the law as an election-year weapon: Their conservative base wants it gone, the quicker the better. Overall, polls give a decidedly mixed picture of the overhaul's standing with the public.

Obama has hardly been silent or shy about the law. The president has consistently touted it at campaign events, mostly recently at two fundraisers on Friday, including one speech in which he defiantly declared: "You want to call it Obamacare—that's OK, because I do care. That's why we passed it."

First lady Michelle Obama sang its praises on Monday, telling supporters: "Two years ago, we made history together—all of us worked for this—by finally passing health reform."

The Obama campaign's 17-minute re-election film spends precious minutes promoting new benefits coming on line thanks to the overhaul. In fact, the president's first words to the camera link his mother's death from cancer to his motivation for pushing the ACA.

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