Since the arguably tepid advocacy for health care reform in Obama’s State of the Union address the President’s resolve to stake his political fortunes, and by implication those of his majority legislators, on the passage of a health care reform bill has become clearly evident. And even in that speech his message to his Congressional party was unequivocal, “To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve some problems, not run for the hills.”
After the tortuous ebb and flow of national debate and painful legislative horse-trading of the past nine months we have reached a point of no return for Obama’s administration, our Congressional majorities and our political prospects in the upcoming 2010 midterm elections. Either the bill passes or fails. Obama gets it:
GLENSIDE, Pa. – President Obama challenged wavering members of his own party on Monday not to give in to their political fears about supporting health care legislation, asserting that the urgency of getting a bill through Congress should trump any concern about the consequences for Democrats in November.
President Barack Obama told a crowd of students at Arcadia University, in Glenside, Pa. on Monday that there should be an “up or down vote on health care.”
In a high-octane appearance that harked back to his “Yes we Can” campaign days, Mr. Obama jettisoned the professorial demeanor that has cloaked many of his public pronouncements on the issue, instead making an emotional pitch for public support as he tries to push the legislation through a final series of votes in Congress in the next several weeks.
Helene Cooper – Obama Warns Democrats of Urgency of Health Bill NYT 8 Mar 10
President Obama’s willingness to make an all or nothing bet on this legislative reform has leveraged Congressional Democrats into a position where they soon must consider Benjamin Franklin’s sage advice, “We must all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang seperately.”
And the prospects are daunting. There is no clear indication that Democrats can muster the numbers in the House in the next few weeks:
To prevent a Republican filibuster in the Senate, Democrats are planning to include the final revisions to the health care bill in a budget reconciliation measure, which can be adopted by a simple majority in both chambers.
But first, House Democrats must approve the Senate’s health care bill, originally adopted Dec. 24. This is where the legislative heavy lifting will take place.
Many rank-and-file House Democrats are deeply uneasy. They disliked the Senate bill on both policy and political grounds.
David M Herszenhorn – A Handy Road Map for the Final Weeks NYT 8 Mar 10
In an effort to rekindle public support for this legislation the Obama White House has taken unprecedented steps in recent weeks, convening a publicly televised ‘bipartisan’ summit and drafting a straight-forward summary of the essential policy of health care reform he is advocating. The summit failed to elicit bipartisan support, as expected, but it cleared a political roadblock in the path of using reconciliation to amend the existing Senate bill. Everyone can see that Republicans are committed to obstructionism as a political strategy. Since then Obama has commenced stumping around the country at televised town-hall events in support of this legislation.
So how does public opinion stack up on this signature Democratic legislation? Not so good, apparently:
PRINCETON, NJ — Americans are skeptical that lawmakers will agree on a new healthcare bill at Thursday’s bipartisan healthcare summit in Washington, D.C. If an agreement is not reached, Americans by a 49% to 42% margin oppose rather than favor Congress passing a healthcare bill similar to the one proposed by President Obama and Democrats in the House and Senate. By a larger 52% to 39% margin, Americans also oppose the Democrats in the Senate using a reconciliation procedure to avoid a possible Republican filibuster and pass a bill by a simple majority vote.
The poll shows that American public opinion tilts against this option.
Not only are 49% of Americans opposed to passing a bill similar to the one proposed by Obama and the Democrats in the House and Senate, compared with 42% in favor, those “strongly” opposed outnumber those “strongly” in favor by 23% to 11%.
A follow-up question asked specifically about the use of a parliamentary procedure that would allow the Democratic leaders to avoid a Republican filibuster. Again, Americans are opposed by a slightly larger, 52% to 39% margin, and those opposed are more likely to feel strongly about their opinion than those in favor, 25% to 11%.
The survey question defines the legislation in question as being similar to that proposed by President Obama and the Democrats in the House and Senate.
Frank Newport – Americans Tilt Against Democrats’ Plans if Summit Fails Gallup 25 Feb 10
Some of the opposition is no doubt due to Republican narratives, ‘death panels’ and ‘socialism,’ not to mention frustration with legislators and the sausage-making demonstration provided by the Democratic majorities in both houses over the past year. But nevertheless a core question must be asked:
Which would you rather take into the midterm elections? The President/Congress that succeeded where Clinton, Truman, etc had failed in the past by passing healthcare reform – but without the support of a majority of the population – or divided, incompetent, failure? Now I’m not saying that the fate of this bill will significantly impact who controls the House or Senate after the 2010 elections one way or another, but it seems to me that if it did, then not passing your most meaningful domestic policy objective would ultimately be more damaging to your political prospects then passing it with the support of only 40% of the country.
Joshua Tucker – What’s Worse Politically? Passing a Bill … or Looking Weak and Incompetent? The Monkey Cage 1 Mar 10
How is it that Democrats seem to be in a lose-lose situation on this policy issue? The rationale for reforming health insurance is sound, we are in an unsustainable cycle of rising costs and sharp premium increases in an almost monopolistic marketplace. Something clearly must be done but the political climate, for a variety of reasons, is toxic and the militancy, not to mention the outright misrepresentation, of the opposition framing of this legislation has had an impact on the attitude, and apprehension, of the American public.
Nevertheless, at this point there is diminishing wiggle-room for reluctant Democrats and Obama has come down on the side of daring to win and letting the chips fall where they may. There are arguably even harsher assessments of the potential failure of the Democratic majorities in both houses which might emerge:
In my view, at this point, you cannot blame the president if this bill fails to pass. And you cannot even blame the Republicans, although they will do all they can to bugger up the reconciliation process. In the end, this is about whether the Democratic Party can govern, whether it is a functioning political party, or whether it deserves to die. If it had one tenth of the discipline of the GOP, this would not be a question. But frankly, if it cannot pass this bill after the last election with this president at this moment, then it should be put out of its misery.
Andrew Sullivan – Would You Rather? The Atlantic 7 Mar 10
Are Democrats going to deliver or not? The ethos of our party will be significantly altered in either case, at least for the remainder of the current election cycle if not beyond. And short-term electoral considerations notwithstanding it seems we have little choice. Pass. The. Bill.
[Update] “I’m kind of fired up,” Obama said at the beginning of his remarks:
“Let’s seize reform. It’s within our grasp,” the president implored his audience at Arcadia University, the first outside-the-Beltway appearance since he vowed last week to do everything in his power to push his health care plan into law.
The president’s pitch was part denunciation of insurance companies – “they continue to ration care on the basis of who’s sick and who’s healthy,” he said – and part criticism of his Republican critics. “You had 10 years. What happened? What were you doing?” he taunted members of a party that held the White House for eight years and control of Congress for a dozen.
Julie Pace and David Espo – Obama Health Care Push: Back To His Grassroots AP via Huffington Post 8 Mar 10
“So I need you to knock on doors. Talk to your neighbors. Pick up the phone,” he urged them. Yeah, and ring you’re Democratic representatives. Man, what a party.