Biden makes his pitch for Obamacare

WASHINGTON — Joe Biden has never been known to hold his tongue when he has something on his mind. So it’s not surprising that six months after leaving the vice presidency, he wrote a Washington Post piece the other day unequivocally defending Obamacare, his old boss’s much-maligned health insurance law.

Upon its passage in 2010, Biden called it “a big expletive deal,” whispering his congratulations to then-President Obama before television cameras that captured his exuberance as countless eyes rolled at another typical “That’s Joe” moment.

Since then, Biden has spent much of his time, first as veep and now as a private citizen, working to find a cure for cancer, which claimed his elder son Beau during his public-service career as attorney general of Delaware, with expectations of seeking higher office.

When his father announced he would not seek the presidency a third time, the elder Biden cited the weight of family grieving over the loss of Beau, while assuring fellow Democrats he would remain in the fight for party principles.

The Democratic loss of the presidency last November led Biden to lament the party’s failure to focus on its blue-collar constituency, which he had championed for so many years. Particularly grating to him was how it had responded to the courtship of con man Donald Trump, promising economic deliverance with a sneer and a shoeshine.

Last week, after Vice President Mike Pence told the National Governors Association that the latest Republican health-care bill “strengthens and secures Medicaid for the neediest of our society,” Biden emphatically took issue.

The GOP bill, he wrote, “tries to deal with opioid addiction on the cheap, eviscerates the (Affordable Care Act’s) Medicaid expansion and guts the ACA’s promise that care like maternity and mental health and substance-use disorder services must be part of any viable health coverage system. They want to drag us back to a time, not all that long ago, when Americans could be denied basic health care because they were unable to afford it. That’s the reality of where we are today, and it’s enough to make your blood boil.”

It was vintage Joe Biden of Scranton, Pa. — who grew up in coal country as the son of a car salesman and himself had the gift of gab — who could speak convincingly of the plight of the little guy from his own family background.

Biden spoke as a defender of Obamacare, supporting the Obama formula of insurance exchanges negotiating with the established private insurance marketers on costs and services. In doing so, he bucked the party’s more liberal or progressive wing, which pushes for a government-run, single-payer plan as in Canada, as championed by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

To many Democrats in this troubled political time, Joe Biden as the familiar if oft-demonized old shoe may begin to look like good fit a third time around. Yet there’s plenty of time for a serviceable alternative to surface. In the meantime, Obamacare repeal appears comatose at best, not because of anything Biden said, but because of more Senate Republican division and ineptness.

President Trump’s tardy demand to try one more time, threatening those who refuse, staked his reputation as a master dealmaker. But doing so pushed Republican senators to the wall — not the best way to endear himself to them when he needs no new enemies in his own party.


Jules Witcover is a nationally syndicated columnist.