IS THIS IN VAIN? - AT 11:02 P.M. ET: Karl Rove, writing in the Wall Street Journal, believes that the health-care debate is going the GOP's way. The question is, if the Democrats have the votes, will public opinion matter?
Passing health-care reform could be harmful to the health of congressional Democrats.
Just look at how President Barack Obama's standing has fallen as he has pushed for reform. According to Fox News surveys, the number of independents who oppose health-care reform hit 57% at the end of September, up from 33% in July. Independents are generally a quarter of the vote in off-year congressional elections.
Among seniors, opposition to ObamaCare hit 63% in last month's Economist/YouGov Poll. But the number from that poll that should spook Democrats is this: 47% of seniors said they "strongly" oppose health-care reform, just 27% "strongly" support it. Seniors are the biggest consumers of health care, and their family members will probably take their concerns seriously. Seniors will likely cast about 20% of the votes next year.
What are the political implications?
In 2006, the year the GOP lost control of Congress, Democrats enjoyed a double-digit lead in several "generic ballot" polls—a measure of voters' party preference. Democrats held that lead until this year. Today, Gallup's generic ballot shows Democrats have a razor thin 46% to 44% edge. According to Gallop's numbers, independents now favor Republicans by nine points.
Here's something we didn't know:
The numbers may get worse for Democrats if they pass a health-care bill. Why? Because Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D., Mont.) wants to frontload the reforms with distasteful things. Under his plan, tax hikes and Medicare and Medicaid cuts kick in immediately, while new benefits are delayed for two-and-a-half years. Voters likely won't warm to reforms that slam them next year while promising benefits down the road.
This battle is far from over. But what Democrats have to keep in mind is that there are two fights going on here—one over health care and another over which party will control Congress after next year's elections. By waging the first, they may be setting themselves up to lose the second.
COMMENT: Okay, I'll buy part of that. One of the problems is that reporting on the health-care plan will be filtered through the mainstream media, which will do everything it can to paint a happy face on the inept plan.
The political impact will really be felt if people see their health-care benefits cut next year, or find that their doctors no longer take Medicare, or see their health premiums rise. Then there could be a revolt.
But revolts have to be managed, and require leaders. There are reports this evening that some Republicans in the Senate are ready to cave in on the public option. Some may even vote for the president's plan. If Obama can portray the plan as "bipartisan," the GOP argument is cut to shreds immediately.
This is a time for Republican maneuvering and political craftsmanship. Oh wait. It's the Republican Party. Maybe I should scale back my demands.
Big battles ahead.
October 7, 2009