Health care an albatross around Dem election hopes

Posted on October 6, 2010

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A slew of factors are influencing voter disapproval and anemic Democratic poll numbers this 2010 election season – the weak economy and high unemployment after a massive stimulus was promised to bail us out, the rise of the vigorous Tea Party movement, and dissatisfaction among citizens of all stripes over a feeling that government is unresponsive to their needs and concerned only with its own agenda.

But one large factor simply cannot be overlooked – the health care reform bill passed in March with a majority of Americans opposed to its enactment. Supporters pooh-poohed the bad poll numbers at the time, seeing the vote as history that must be realized regardless of the currents of the moment and secure in their ability to spin the positive aspects of the bill enough to wear down opposition to many of its components and generate warm fuzzies for the good stuff like protecting kids from being denied due to preexisting conditions.

As Nancy Pelosi famously said, “We have to pass the bill to find out what’s in it,” and while regulatory uncertainty still exists due to much of the final regulations left up to bureaucrats, little that has been discovered has endeared it to the public. Take the notorious 1099 provision requiring businesses large and small to send tax forms to any other entity with whom they do more than $600 of business, a measure that will create a nightmare of paperwork and overburden smaller companies with even more regulatory compliance.

Consider also the pledge that passage of the bill would make premiums and health care costs go down. The bill does nothing to address underlying health care costs, only divvy up the method of paying for them, and as a result, numerous insurers have found themselves needing to in fact raise their premiums in order to remain viable and profitable. It has gotten to the point where HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has threatened insurers with removal from the federal markets if they try to blame premium hikes on the health care bill, as though adding more benefits and more customers should have no financial effect whatsoever.

Arguments can be made for the necessity of the way the entire reform process played out and the state the final health care bill took. The fact remains, however, that after Democrats confidently predicted they’d be running on the bill in November, virtually no incumbent Democrat is touting any piece of their supposedly historic legislative session in reelection efforts (especially those pro-life Democrats whose vote for the abortion-funding bill has left them in hot water with pro-life groups). The reason is simple – instead of being spun to be comfortable with the bill, Americans continue to disapprove of its passage and want its repeal in significant numbers.

How significant? In key battleground districts, 56% according to a poll by The Hill. The kicker? One in four Democrats are part of the “racist” and “ill-informed” group that wants the bill to be done away with. No doubt some of them want it replaced by an even more governmentally involved single payer system, but regardless of their reasons, Americans’ resentment of the high-profile sausage-making and ultimate dismissal of legitimate concerns has not waned with the passing of the spring and summer months.

The urge to blame the lack of support on superb GOP messaging relies to heavily on the belief that the GOP has competent messaging skills at all. To the disbelief of many, the anger at town halls and protests wasn’t dictated from above by any pundit or politician, but bubbled up from the grassroots level, and its legitimacy can be seen in its staying power.

The rallying cry for Democrats early this year was that 1994 happened because they had failed on health care. But to make that argument ignores the reality of America as a center-right nation, and Democrats in 2010 have made the ultimate liberal sin of “scaring the bear.” Bad economies have existed before and hurt the incumbents, but not at the level it seems to be hurting them in all states this time around. In 2010, it’s not a stretch to suggest that a Democratic upset might largely be due to the health care reform law.

It would fly in the face of everything liberals said Democrats must do to ensure victory in 2010, advice that looks today to be largely useless. Such a failure to read and respect the mood of the electorate simply underscores the belief that Washington is completely out of synch with most of the rest of the country, and it’s far too late to right the ship for the Democrats in this election cycle.

Cross-posted at The Moderate Voice.

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Posted in: Politics