An elaborate pageant over Obamacare is playing in neighborhoods across South Florida this month, with many more performances between now and Labor Day.
Concerned citizens and well-funded conservative and liberal political organizations are blanketing the country's largest swing state as the debate over President Barack Obama's principal domestic initiative continues to rage.
Politicians are doing their part as well before major provisions of the Affordable Care Act go into effect Oct. 1. Home for the five-week congressional recess, they're trying to navigate treacherous politics of Obamacare, with Democrats generally trying to sing its praises while Republicans sow discontent — and some trying to avoid potential fallout by avoiding the subject all together.
Among the most outspoken are U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, who is Obama's handpicked chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who's attempting to shore up his credentials with his party's primary voters as he decides whether to seek the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
"Obamacare will provide greater access to affordable care to millions who don't have it now," Wasserman Schultz said in Fort Lauderdale at the first of several planned pro-health law events this month. "We need to continue to educate people about what Obamacare means for them, and what they'd be giving up if the Republicans have their way."
Leslie Sheffield, of Fort Lauderdale, a cancer survivor who cares for her 92-year-old mother, has private insurance. Because her insurer didn't spend 80 percent of the premiums on health care services, as required by Obamacare, she and her husband each got $270 rebates a few weeks ago.
"People are wondering if Obamacare is really doing anything to help. I'm here to say it is and it does," said Sheffield, 59, who appeared with Wasserman Schultz. "Obamacare is working for us and others like us."
Rubio has been on a tour of north Florida this week, holding anti-Obamacare events in Gainesville, Jacksonville, Panama City and Pensacola. On Wednesday, he called it "an unnecessary and, in my opinion, unconstitutional, expansion of the federal government. But right now what I'm most focused on is the impact it's having on real people: on workers, on the working class, who are going to lose their hours, their insurance and potentially their job because of the uncertainty that Obamacare is creating."
Delray Beach resident Sharon Preston, 65, who's gotten an education about the health-care system through her mother-in-law, age 91, is convinced Obamacare is a bad idea.
"I do not trust the government to run the health care system that I will be under in view of the fact that they have messed up just about every other program that they have been in. And I especially do not trust — I don't know to call him President Obama or King Obama," Preston said. "I am just scared, as all my friends, everyone that I speak to, are frightened, absolutely frightened by the thought of the government taking over health care."
From the left, Americans United for Change and Protect Your Care are attempting to build support for the law with public events, news conferences and plans to turn out at town hall meetings to show support for the law. "We've got a lot of good stuff in the works," said Jackie Lee, a Florida Democratic strategist who was involved in the 2008 and 2012 Obama campaigns. The main mission: don't allow anti-Obamacare messages to go unchallenged.
Organizing for Action, the successor to Obama's re-election campaign organization, is part of the effort. OFA marked Obama's birthday on Aug. 4 with a pro-Obamacare house party in Coconut Creek and sending people to distribute fliers on Fort Lauderdale beach.
From the right, various tea party groups and conservative political organizations are on the attack.
Americans for Prosperity held protests this week outside offices of Florida Blue-Cross Blue Shield in Boynton Beach, Tampa and Winter Park to complain about insurer's participation in the Obama Administration's Enroll America effort.
Enroll America, which bills itself as nonpartisan, has 27 staffers throughout Florida who are trying to mobilize a force of volunteers encourage signups for insurance through the online marketplaces that begin Oct. 1. They're using political techniques: door-to-door canvassing, house parties, and tables set up at civic events.
Florida state director Nick Duran, who grew up in Coral Springs, said Enroll America isn't getting hostile responses or political questions. "There is a thirst for knowledge," he said.
Slade O'Brien, of Boca Raton, Florida director of Americans for Prosperity, said his organization would have people on hand whenever members of Congress hold Obamacare-related public events later this month, to make sure the politicians, the public and the news media get an opposition story line.
Charles Zelden, a professor of history and legal studies who specializes in politics and voting at Nova Southeastern University, said the continued debate isn't surprising.
He said Medicare, the revolutionary change in government health policy in the 1960s that provided health care to seniors, was controversial when it was enacted, but is now politically sacrosanct. He said Republicans' biggest political fear is a repeat of the Medicare experience — that in several years it becomes a widely popular program with credit going to the Democrats. "If it works even three-quarters as well as it should, they'll never get rid of it."
Carolyn Hardy, of West Park, who was also at the Wasserman Schultz's event with Sheffield, said many people "want Obamacare."
Expect the conflicting voices to continue, Zelden said. "It won't be settled until people see the benefit or the real cost of Obamacare," he said. "If anyone says they know how it's going to turn out, they're lying or they're foolish."
email@example.com or 954-356-4550