Obamacare: What’s in a Name?

Posted March 31, 2012 at 7:59am

The debate over the Affordable Care Act has now moved from the Supreme Court to the style committee.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is asking Democrats who previously objected to using the term Obamacare to refer to the law to reconsider, now that President Barack Obama’s campaign team is using the phrase.

In a March 29 letter, Issa pressed Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) on the nomenclature.

“Given your past rhetoric, please clarify whether you would like the record to reflect that you still stand behind your earlier statements and believe the Obama campaign’s use of the term ‘Obamacare’ is inappropriate or indicate that you would like the record to reflect the fact that you have changed your position on the use of the term ‘Obamacare’ and do not intend to object to its usage in future committee proceedings,” Issa wrote.

In March 2011, Clay objected to calling the law Obamacare, saying the term was “not helpful in any way,” “purposefully provocative,” “misleading” and “unfair.”

In July, Cummings said he took “great offense when I hear the word ‘Obamacare.’ There is no such thing. Members of this Congress voted for this legislation and many of us have strong feelings about it.”

But as the debate over the law has heated back up this year, the president’s re-election campaign has started to use the term, as well.

David Axelrod, the campaign’s top strategist, sent Obama’s supporters a March 24 email blast with the subject line “Hell yeah — I like Obamacare.”

Other top advisers, including David Plouffe and Stephanie Cutter, have used and embraced the term Obamacare as well.

And news outlets, including Time Magazine, the Washington Post and National Journal have begun using the term in stories. Even liberal-leaning outlets such as the New Republic and Huffington Post are using the name.

Cummings and Clay both declined to comment.

If they keep to their stances on the term, though, they’ll have company: despite the backing of Axelrod and company, the House Franking Commission will continue to prohibit Members from using it in taxpayer-funded mail to constituents.

“Associating personal identity with legislation is prohibited by the Franking Commission. The use of ‘Obamacare’ falls within that category,” spokesman Steve Dutton said.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said he was recently informed he had used the word Obamacare on the House floor four times more than the person who used it the second most.

Asked about the Franking Commission’s policy, King said, “The president can use his middle name but nobody else can, by order of the Franking Commission. And he can use ‘Obamacare’ but nobody else can, by order of the Franking Commission. Double standard!”