We hate it. We love it. But most of us don't really know what it really does. Mitt Romney does. That's why he's having such a hard time slamming Obamacare.
When the Supreme Court surprisingly upheld the affordable care act last week, it threw the GOP into a dither and launched an avalanche of conflicting messages about what it is and what it does.
Surely Charles Dickens would say, "It is the best of Acts. It is the worst of Acts."
A CNN poll released Monday found that slightly more than half of the people in the United States, 52 percent, favor most or all of the new health care law's provisions. That's up from slightly less than half, 45 percent, CNN found back in January.
But Monday's poll showed how conflicted we really are. When CNN asked whether we should keep or repeal the law's provisions, 51 percent said they should be repealed. Another 47 percent said keep them.
So, we like it, but we want to get rid of it.
Generally, Republicans like it less than Democrats, which is sort of to be expected. A Washington Post/ ABC News poll found that "two-thirds of conservative Republicans have strongly unfavorable views of the judgment, and nearly as many liberal Democrats -- 61 percent -- hold intensely positive ones."
But even Republicans, who fought so passionately and determinedly against it, are having a hard time wrapping their brains around what exactly the thing is about it that they really don't like.
Most are clear that they hate what's known as the "individual mandate." But their candidate for president called the exact same idea crucial to the success of Romneycare in Massachusetts.
Romney wrote an op-ed piece in USA Today in 2009, telling the president to do exactly what the Affordable Care Act does: "Using tax penalties, as we did, or tax credits, as others have proposed, encourages 'free riders' to take responsibility for themselves rather than pass their medical costs on to others."
He got beat up for it during this year's campaign. Tim Pawlenty, the Republican ex-governor of Minnesota who is now on Romney's short-list for VP, mocked ACA as "Obamneycare."
It's no more clear now.
"The president said it was not a tax and the Supreme Court," he said, "which has the final say, said it is a tax."
Wallace pointed out the Republican conundrum.
"If the Obama mandate is a tax on the middle class, isn't the Romney mandate a tax on the middle class?" Wallace asked.
"I think Gov. Romney will have to speak for himself on what was done in Massachusetts," McConnell said.
But when a Romney spokesperson did, it sounded nothing like what the rest of the party was saying.
"The governor believes that what we put in place in Massachusetts was a penalty, and he disagrees with the court's ruling that the mandate was a tax," Eric Fehrnstrom, a senior Romney campaign advisor, said on MSNBC's "Daily Rundown."
Tax, fine, penalty or fee -- that's just splitting hairs. The bottom line is the Affordable Care Act is almost exactly what Romney passed in Massachusetts -- and it works. More people get health care coverage. It helps reduce medical costs and insurance costs for everybody. And the costs of the program are offset by the savings in the long run, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.
Calling it a tax is a giant smokescreen. The tax or penalty, it's estimated, will affect fewer than 2 percent of the population. Those who refuse to get insurance will have to pay a whopping $95 a year penalty in 2014. That's less than $8 a month, or about 26 cents a day.
If they absolutely insist on leaving themselves and their families unprotected, that will climb to just under $2 a day by 2016.
Most who do get coverage, though, will save thousands of dollars a year thanks to ACA. A middle class 40-year-old head of a family of four, making $45,000, will get almost $10,000 of his insurance premiums paid for by the government, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. (The group put together a handy little "Health Reform Subsidy Calculator" so people can estimate how much they can get.)
Even Romney knows that. So expect a lot more clashes between what he and his party have to say about "Obamacare."
Source: Terra/Carlos Harrison