LARGO, Md. — Just five days before Americans can begin signing up for health care under his signature law, President Barack Obama on Thursday ridiculed Republican opponents for "crazy" doomsday predictions of the impact and forecast that even those who didn't vote for him are going to enroll.
With polls showing many Americans still skeptical of "Obamacare," the president went back to the basics to explain how nearly 50 million uninsured Americans can buy coverage in new government-run exchanges. He also mocked Republicans for trying to block its implementation. "The closer we get, the more desperate they get," Obama argued.
"The Republican Party has just spun itself up around this issue," Obama said. "And the fact is the Republicans' biggest fear at this point is not that Affordable Care Act will fail. What they're worried about is it's going to succeed."
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday in a speech on the Senate floor that Obama is trying to sell the law to a skeptical public.
"It must be frustrating for the president that folks seem to keep tuning out all the happy talk anyway," McConnell said. "This law is a mess. It needs to go. It's way past time to start over."
Obama won loud applause from a friendly audience at Prince George's Community College in the Washington suburbs when he vowed that he wouldn't let Republicans block the law. "We are going to see it through. The Affordable Care Act is here," Obama said.
The Obama administration needs millions of Americans — especially young, healthy people — to sign up to keep costs low for everyone.
The White House said Prince George's County, Md., has a high rate of uninsured, at about 16 percent of residents under 65. Obama's audience was full of the young people he is targeting for enrollment.
Obama acknowledged there would be glitches in getting the exchanges running. Even as he spoke, administration officials quietly told key interest groups to expect initial problems signing up online for coverage.
Three-and-a-half years after Obama signed the bill into law, his nearly hourlong speech showed he still has to educate consumers about what will be available to them and convince them to sign up. He predicted success once people learn they can save money or get insurance for the first time.
"Even if you didn't vote for me, I'll bet you'll sign up for that health care plan," Obama said.
Obama said Republicans want "to shut this thing down before people find out that they like it."
Obama didn't call out any opponents by name, but laughingly taunted some of their arguments. He mentioned House Speaker John Boehner's prediction right before the bill was signed into law in March 2010 that "Armageddon" was impending. He quoted Louisiana Rep. John Fleming, who said this month that "Obamacare is the most dangerous piece of legislation ever passed in Congress." He cited Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann's appeal to House colleagues six months ago to "repeal this failure before it literally kills women, kills children, kills senior citizens."
And he quoted New Hampshire state Rep. Bill O'Brien's declaration in August that Obamacare is "a law as destructive to personal and individual liberty as the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850." That was met by a chorus of gasps and boos from the largely black audience.
"Think about that. Affordable health care is worse than a law that lets slave owners get their runaway slaves back," Obama said. "I mean, these are quotes.
"…All this would be funny if it wasn't so crazy," Obama said.