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President Obama is accompanied by Vice President Biden as he delivers a statement on the Affordable Care Act at the Rose Garden of the White House on April 1, 2014. / Jewel Samad, AFP/Getty Images

WASHINGTON - The sharp partisan debate over the merits of President Obama's signature health care law isn't about to end.

But with the president's announcement on Tuesday that more than 7.1 million Americans have signed up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act, he has managed a remarkable comeback that not so long ago looked implausible.

In the process, he may also have stiffened the resolve of fellow Democrats up for re-election who have been continuously battered by Republicans over the law's implementation.

"In the end, history is not kind to those who would deny Americans their basic economic security," Obama said in a Rose Garden event to mark the end of the enrollment period. "Nobody remembers well those who stand in the way of America's progress or our people, and that's what the Affordable Care Act represents. As messy as it's been sometimes, as contentious as it has been sometimes, it is progress."

As Obama touted reaching the enrollment goal that had been set as an early benchmark for the law by the Congressional Budget Office - and later downgraded because of the plagued launch of the federal online marketplace last fall - Republicans continued their assault on the law and downplayed the White House accomplishment.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., on Tuesday offered his latest budget blueprint that in part included the GOP's continued call for repeal of the law.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus scoffed at the notion that the White House and Democrats have anything to celebrate, daring the president to trumpet Obamacare in red states such as Louisiana and Arkansas where incumbent Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu and Mark Pryor face tough re-election battles.

"If the president feels so good about the so-called success of his health care law, then we encourage him to campaign with Mary Landrieu, Mark Pryor and all the other Senate Democrats who unanimously voted for Obamacare," Priebus said.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., argued that little is known about the 7 million who signed up.

"We don't know, of course, exactly what they have signed up for, we don't know how many have paid," McConnell said. "What we do know is that all across the country our constituents are having an unpleasant interaction with Obamacare."

The unknowns about the demographics of the ACA enrollees are undoubtedly important to the viability of the law.

But with his barbs, McConnell papers over the fact that Obama's law - which appeared to be on life support five months ago when only 106,000 managed to enroll during the opening month of the federal and state-run exchanges - is undoubtedly viable.

The White House, at the time, downplayed the grim numbers - noting that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney's statewide health care law drew few enrollees in the first month of the law's implementation.

Even as White House officials publicly expressed optimism that they would right the ship, they acknowledged that many inside the administration were pessimistic during a rocky October and November that they'd be able to come close to reaching the CBO's 7 million benchmark.

But as the deadline neared, confidence grew at the White House.

There were 2.9 million visits to the website over the past weekend, and last week the White House counted more phone calls from Americans inquiring about signing up for insurance than they saw in all of February.

Last week, Obama was able to announce 6 million consumers had enrolled in coverage. And last-minute consumers overwhelmed the federal website on deadline day as outages and intermittent delays slowed customers.

White House press secretary Jay Carney suggested that Obama had a hunch the administration would reach the 7 million mark as Monday approached. And early Tuesday morning, aides confirmed to him during his presidential daily briefing that the goal had been met.

In his remarks to mark the milestone, Obama said that he and supporters of the law faced stiff resistance all along the way, noting that many Republican governors refused to expand Medicaid as allowed under the law and highlighting that his side "didn't have billions of dollars of commercials like some critics did."

But now, he suggested, his side has emerged through the storm and has the upper hand.

"I will always work with anyone who will make this law even better," Obama offered. "But the debate over repealing this law is over. The Affordable Care Act is here to stay."



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: First Take: Obama basks after ACA enrollment turnaround

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