The great military strategist of World War II, Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, once advised, “Don’t fight a battle if you don’t gain anything by winning.” After Sunday night’s “victory” on health care, many Democrats may find that what they have ostensibly gained will be negated by what they will inevitably lose due to their forcing an unpopular law down the throats of American citizens though a narrow partisan effort.
Even before the vote, the controversy of the health care bill was evident. A March 9th Gallup Poll showed that Americans, by a margin of 48 to 45%, oppose the legislation. Even the poll numbers of President Obama have continued to slip as he focused on passing what some refer to as his signature legislation. From March of 2009 to March of 2010, his approval rating went from 64% to 51% according to CNN polldated March 22nd. The same report shows that during a similar period of time, American’s disapproval of the way he is handling the issue of healthcare rose from 41% to 58%.
The leaders of the House and Senate are not immune to the effects of the legislation that passed without a single Republican vote. With Congressional approval numbers already at low levels, a CBS Poll released this week shows Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi with an 11% favorability rating and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid with an 8% rating.
The bill has made groups on both side of the abortion issue unhappy with those responsible for the bill’s passage. Democrat Bart Stupak of Michigan, who held out on voting for the bill until he was promised an executive order preventing the use of federal funds to pay for abortions, was set to receive the “Defender of Life” award for his opposition to use of such funds.
“By accepting this deal from the most pro-abortion President in American history, Stupak has not only failed to stand strong for unborn children, but also for his constituents and pro-life voters across the country,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, the group’s president, said in a statement. Dannenfelser said her organization would not support any candidate who voted for the reform bill. The group had planned to give Stupak the award at a gala this week.
Almost immediately following the bill, critics from both the right and left have launched campaigns against him. Connie Saltonstall, described as both pro-choice and pro-health care, will be challenging in the upcoming Democratic primary, and Republican Tom Stillings will face the winner of the primary
Pro choicers were not happy with the executive order which was added in order to make the bill acceptable to pro-lifers such as Stupak. The National Organization for Women criticized Obama saying that [t]he message we received is that it is acceptable to negotiate health care of the backs of women, and we couldn’t disagree more.”
Protests against the bill’s passage were not limited to mere words. In New York, two Democratic Party offices were the target of bricks being thrown through the windows by individuals who disagree with the vote. One brick broke the glass doors at the Monroe County Democratic Committee office, while another went through a window at Democratic Representative Louise Slaughter’s district office.
With so much dissension regarding the health care legislation, many Democrats are hoping that with the passage of the legislation, they can get to work convincing the public that the overhaul will be beneficial to Americans. According to Wall Street Journal columnist Gerald Seib, “How the legislation is perceived by Americans…may well depend on whether its advocates…can convince Americans that, at least on this giant issue, the government is up to the task.”
The job of turning public opinion is made even harder by the timetable for the implementation of legislation. During the first year of implementation many people will not see any benefits from the bill. Legislation set to roll out this year, so called “early deliverables,” would include provisions to allow parents to keep children on their policies until the age of 26, increased help for seniors to pay for drugs under Medicare, and a federal program to allow people with pre-existing conditions qualify for coverage. NPR reports that “big changes in the law – the ones that could affect tens of millions don’t kick in until at least 2014.”
But while the near term upside of the bill is limited, the downside may erase any traction the Democrats may make in the next few months. As cited in the same NPR story, Stuart Rothenberg observes that the “idea that suddenly after the bill passes that Democratic leaders could start talking about it and people would be happy strikes me as Pollyannish at best.”
It is certain that senior citizens will be joining together with all the rest of the groups who feel like the health care legislation will cause more problems than it solves. On ABC’s GMA John McCain, R-AZ, sounded the rallying cry for those who feel the sting of the slap they were dealt by House and President Obama by enacting this law. “For the first time in history, we will have a major reform enacted without a bipartisan support for doing so. We’ll challenge it every place we can…We’ll fight everywhere.”
It was during the election of 2008 that McCain became the poster boy for a defeated and demoralized Republican party – a party which seemed to have lost its focus as well as its leadership. Many believe that the passage of health care will serve to revitalize Republicans and cause other conservative groups to unify toward the goal of reducing government interference in the rights of individuals and the states. Gary Andres of the Providence Journal notes that “[c]urrent polling shows Republicans more energized than Democrats – a reverse of conditions two years ago.” Additionally the all important independent are indicating that they will also support Republicans. According to Michael Boland, former senior GOP leadership aide and head of a Washington research organization, “many voters – particularly independents – are disgusted with Washington. They hear words they don’t understand: reconciliation, side car legislation, self-executing rules. This only further pollutes the environment.”
And it is this so called “toxic environment” that Democrats will face when the November elections come around. While some may hope that the health care proponents may be able to sell the plan to the public and others may see a potential uptick in the economy as an offset of the unpopularity that has been garnered by Democrats in the last year, others see it as too little, too late, and too uncertain. In an article for The Hill Ted Devine, a Democratic strategist, sums up the problems that the party will face in the upcoming election. “I think voters will be focused on whether we’re creating jobs or continuing to lose them. If things get worse, there’re going to be a revolt in the country and a movement for change and that’s bad for the country.”
Not only are Republican and many independent voters, such as the Tea Party movement, unhappy with the outcome of the health care debate, they are also more focused on the November elections than their counterparts on the Democratic side. Mark Shields reports that “67% of Republicans expressed great interest in the upcoming congressional elections, while just 46% of Democrats said they were equally excited about November.”
AP’s Liz Sidoti agrees saying that voters may not see either the continuing stagnation of economic woes or the promised of benefits from a trillion dollar piece of legislation as a reason to put more faith in Democrats and, “that might mean a disastrous midterm election year for Obama and his fellow Democrats.”
Historically, the fall elections size up to be a difficult year for the Democrats despite the caustic atmosphere created by health care. According to the LA Times, since World War II the average number of House seats lost in the first midterm election is 16, but holding to that number this time, “seems highly unlikely in this seething anti-incumbent environment.” In fact, some are saying that Republicans will likely pick up several dozen and maybe even up to 40 in the House.
“Given that Democrats have basically lost the healthcare messaging fight for the last year, I’m not sure why we should think they will begin to win over the next seven months,” said Charlie Cook, one of Washington’s leading handicappers.
As many analysts are saying, the vote on Sunday was not the end of the health care debate and in fact the stakes may just get higher. Joe Barton, R-TX, issued a statement following the passage of the “fatally flawed bill” warning the President and the opposition party that the he, along with other Republicans and independents, don’t see the bill as a fate d’accompli. “The Democratic liberal left got a tactical victory Sunday night, but this vote wasn’t the end of the health care debate – it was really the beginning.”