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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Beutler: Dems Should Leverage ACA to Win Women Voters

It comes a little late for the 2014 midterm elections, but Brian Beutler’s “How to Save Obamacare: Make It a Women’s Issue” at The New Republic has some buzz-worthy advice for Democrats:

As Matt Yglesias observed at Vox last week, in our political discourse, we tend to lump all “women’s issues” together into the same category as culture war flashpoints like abortion. But for public opinion purposes, this is a big mistake. In truth, the politics of things like childcare and wage equality cut very differently than the “social” issues we associate them with, and that’s at least in part because they alter the distribution of income. Higher wages, family leave, subsidized childcare–all of these increase women’s income, and, thus, their economic power.
That helps explain why they’re winning political issues. Transfer payments and “big government” aren’t exactly in vogue right now, but gender equity is very popular. And the key is that Obamacare doesn’t stand apart from these issues in any way.
Whether you like Obamacare or you hate it, chances are you don’t think of it as a heavily gendered initiative, like equal pay. But though the debate over Obamacare centers around nominally gender-neutral values–should the government guarantee coverage, and are the benefits too generous?–the law operates as a substantial income transfer from men to women. For the past few years, this aspect of the law has given rise to rancorous debates over contraception and maternity care. But the contraception and maternity care guarantees are both manifestations of the fact that the law prohibits gender rating. Women consume more health care than men. This is in large part by accident of the fact that men don’t get pregnant and give birth. Before Obamacare, insurers sorted that out by charging women higher premiums than men. Women were therefore less likely to be able to afford insurance on the individual market than men, more financially dependent on their employers for insurance than men, and thus faced greater tensions between their familial and professional ambitions than men. Obamacare doesn’t end these inequalities, obviously, but it seeks to curb them. As a result, employers and spouses are less able to interfere in women’s professional and reproductive decision making.

Beutler goes on to note that “In polling Obamacare fares noticeably worse with men than with women and points out that “the ACA substantially enhances women’s economic security.” At this point it appears that the most serious threats to Obamacare comes from Supreme Court meddling, not from voters — it’s unlikely that Republicans are going to get enough of a majority to repeal it and replace it with nothing anytime in the foreseeable future. But it may be that a campaign to better inform women swing voters about the ACA’s benefits for women could help Democrats in 2016, if not in 2014.

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