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Obama Boasts Health Care Enrollment Hits 8 Million, Talks Immigration, Highways (Updated)

(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images File Photo)
(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images File Photo)

Updated 4:38 p.m. | President Barack Obama said Thursday that 8 million people have signed up for health insurance coverage in the marketplaces set up through the Affordable Care Act, and whacked Republicans for “endless, fruitless repeal efforts.”  

We are “now covering more people at less cost,” Obama told reporters gathered for an impromptu statement in the Brady Briefing Room. “The bottom line is … this thing is working.”  

The president also said the data show 35 percent of people who signed up are under the age of 35, a critical factor to the exchanges working and keeping costs down.  

Obama went after Republicans, saying “they were wrong” to try and get rid of his signature domestic achievement and that they “have no alternative answer for millions of Americans.”  

“I find it strange that the Republican position on this law is still stuck in the same place that it has always been. They still can’t bring themselves to admit the Affordable Care Act is working,” Obama said.  

He said he believes Republicans are going through “the stages of grief … anger, denial and all that stuff. They’re not at acceptance yet.”  

“We’re not at acceptance yet, but at some point my assumption is, is that there will be an interest to figure out how we make this work in the best way possible,” Obama added in response to a question about to work to fix flaws in the underlying law.  

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was quick to respond to the president’s remarks, saying that Obama had omitted any mention about “the millions of Americans who were deceived about what Obamacare would mean for them and their families.” The Kentucky Republican said “countless” Americans have been “forced out of the plans they had and liked, are now shouldering dramatically higher premiums, and can no longer use the doctors and hospitals they choose.”  

McConnell closed his statement by calling for a repeal of the ACA and a replacement: “It’s long past time for Washington Democrats to work with us to remedy the mess they created — and that means repealing this law and replacing it with real reforms that actually lower costs.”  

During his brief news conference, Obama said he is “puzzled” by the GOP stance on the health care law. The president said “this isn’t about me,” but because Obamacare is the “primary agenda item” in the Republican platform he doesn’t predict that will ease before November.  

He said he expects insurance premiums to rise, but noted that health care spending has increased more slowly than it has in recent years.  

Obama also pushed for an agreement on infrastructure, an issue he suggested would be a better focal point than the health care law.  

“I think that I speak for all Democrats in saying we would much prefer a constructive conversation with the Republicans about how do we get some stuff done, and — and let’s focus on some areas where the American people really care about,” Obama said, pivoting to transportation. “Why aren’t we coming up with a way to make sure that we’re rebuilding our roads and our bridges and improving our air traffic control system. There’s no reason that has to be political. There really isn’t any ideological disagreement on that.”  

“I guarantee you, after this winter if you look at the potholes that are the size of canyons all across big chunks of the United States that people would like to see an infrastructure bill,” he said. “Let’s get it done.”  

In the Senate, Environment and Public Works Committee leaders have announced a tentative path forward for a highway bill reauthorization, but there’s an open question how the Finance Committee will make up a serious funding shortfall (roughly $16 billion per year above the funding provided by the Highway Trust Fund).

Obama also discussed the situation in Ukraine and bipartisan immigration legislation he believes House Republicans should put for a vote on the floor.

He described his Wednesday immigration-related conversation with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., as “pleasant,” prompting laughter because Cantor had complained in a statement late Wednesday that the president does not know how to work with Congress.

The president said he understands it is “hard politics” for the GOP but that overhauling the “broken” immigration system is necessary. “The only way to truly fix it is through congressional action,” Obama said. He said he would review policy “one more time” to see if there is any more executive action that can be taken to ease deportations and the hardship on families. But it was clear he puts the onus on Congress.

“It’s a matter of political will,” Obama said. “It’s no longer a matter of policy.”

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