Tide Turning On Health Care Reform, Democrats and Republicans?

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After months of a new and old media narrative about President Barack Obama’s proposed health care reform being on the ropes — a political hot potato Obama tossed Congress to resolve — is the tide finally turning?

Within the past 24 hours a new report came out suggesting one of the proposed plans would help reduce the deficit — removing a key political talk radio culture talking/attack point and giving the White House, Democrats and health care reform proponents a potent rhetorical tool. And while GOP political strategist maven Karl Rove is now insisting the GOP is winning the public opinion war, a new poll suggests that the Republican party is taking a big hit on this issue in the public opinion department — a further sign that Republicans may have mobilized their party base (again) but face a bigger long-range problem even as several polls suggest Obama and the Demmies are losing a chunk of independent voter support.

Here’s the Wall Street Journal on the latest development that has created all of the buzz:

The latest Senate health bill will cost $829 billion over a decade and slightly reduce the federal budget deficit, congressional budget crunchers said Wednesday, marking a major step forward for Democrats’ plans to overhaul American health care.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found the sweeping measure will cover 94% of nonelderly legal U.S. residents, up from about 83% currently. The bill will cut the deficit by $81 billion over the 10-year period, owing to trims in Medicare spending and new taxes.

The widely awaited report paves the way for the Senate Finance Committee to approve its bill in the next few days.

After appearing in peril in August, the health-care overhaul has cleared a series of hurdles in recent weeks that have given Democrats increased confidence they will pass a bill. Lobbyists on both sides of the issue have shifted their focus to what the bill will look like rather than questioning whether a measure can succeed.

The Journal also adds this cautionary note:

But plenty of potential pitfalls remain. Democrats are still divided over core elements, including whether to create a public health insurance plan and how to pay for the overhaul. The hospital industry, a key ally, says the latest bill from the Senate doesn’t expand health insurance broadly enough to meet the terms of its pledge to contribute $155 billion to the effort.

According to the budget office, the bill spends $461 billion over a decade to give tax credits to low- and middle-income Americans to offset the cost of buying insurance. It spends $345 billion to expand the Medicaid insurance program to cover a larger swath of the poor.

The New York Times frames it this way:

The Senate Finance Committee legislation to revamp the health care system would provide coverage to 29 million uninsured Americans but would still pare future federal deficits by slowing the growth of spending on medical care, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday.

The much-anticipated cost analysis showed the bill meeting President Obama’s main requirements, including his demand that health legislation not add “one dime to the deficit.” Indeed, the budget office said, the bill would reduce deficits by a total of $81 billion in the decade starting next year.

The report clears the way for the Finance Committee chairman, Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, to push for a panel vote within the next few days, and sets the stage for Democrats to take legislation to the floor for debate by the full Senate this month.

Despite the expansion of coverage at a cost of $829 billion over 10 years, the budget office said 25 million people — about one-third of them illegal immigrants — would still be uninsured in 2019. In all, it said, the proportion of nonelderly Americans with insurance would rise over the 10 years to 94 percent, from 83 percent today.

Republicans, who are overwhelmingly opposed to the legislation, minimized the significance of the cost analysis. They suggested that the “real” bill would be written secretly by Democratic leaders as they combine the Finance Committee measure with a version approved by the Senate health committee in July.

But, the Times notes, Democrats “rejoiced.”

Of course, that doesn’t specify whether all Democrats rejoiced: in the end, this bill may not be enough to satisfy he party’s progressive wing which has some activists already serving notice that they will work to defeat Democrats who don’t vote to give them a bill to their linking.

But MSNBC’s First Read notes the significance of this news:

How can you tell if bill could pass and is potentially the president’s silver bullet? Check out Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell’s reaction to the CBO scoring: “This partisan Finance Committee proposal will never see the Senate floor since the real bill will be written by Democrat leaders in a closed-to-the-public conference room somewhere in the Capitol. The real bill will be another 1,000-page, trillion-dollar experiment that slashes a half-trillion dollars from seniors’ Medicare, raises taxes on American families by $400 billion, increases health care premiums, and vastly expands the role of the federal government in the personal health care decisions of every American.” Did you catch that? The GOP spin on this is that Baucus’ bill won’t be “the real bill.” And he’s right, to a point, there will be some changes, i.e. some form of a public option, but the bar’s been set by Baucus on the deficit front. And considering the initial reaction the Baucus bill is receiving on the Hill, don’t be surprised if the White House makes this bill the standardbearer.

The Week has this roundup on the Baucus bill and the report.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has now slated a vote on the bill for next Tuesday, the Times reports:

The Senate Finance Committee will vote next Tuesday on legislation to revamp the health care system, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic majority leader, said on Thursday.

“Since Harry Truman was president, Democrats have fought to make it more affordable to live a healthy life in America,” Mr. Reid said. “Every day, we come closer to achieving that goal.”

Mr. Reid’s announcement that the committee would vote next Tuesday came a day after the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the committee’s version of health legislation would provide coverage to 29 million uninsured Americans but would still pare future federal deficits by slowing the growth of spending on medical care. The much-anticipated cost analysis showed the bill meeting President Obama’s main requirements, including his demand that health legislation not add “one dime to the deficit.” Indeed, the budget office said, the bill would reduce deficits by a total of $81 billion in the decade starting next year.

The report cleared the way for the Finance Committee chairman, Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, to push for a panel vote. It also set the stage for Democrats to take legislation to the floor for debate by the full Senate this month.

Rove, writing in the WSJ, argues that the GOP is winning the health care debate. Here’s the beginning of his must-read-in-full piece:

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 college graduates, opposition to health-care reform is now 50%, while only 33% support it, according to Gallup’s Sept. 24 poll. College graduates are slightly more than a quarter of the off-year electorate.

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.

The trend behind these numbers is that voters are turning away from Democrats. 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.

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.

Read it in its entirety.

But is this cherry-picking? Is this a further example how Rove, Fox News and talk show radio hosts will only talk about a portion of the picture and spin it in a way to excite and reassure their party’s base while downplaying or leaving out trends not positive for the GOP?

A new poll paints a different portrait of the health care debate. Via Bloomberg:

Months of Republican attacks on President Barack Obama’s health-care proposals appear to have hurt the party, according to a Quinnipiac University poll.

The survey found 64 percent of voters disapproving of the way Republicans in Congress are doing their jobs, with 25 percent approving. Also, 53 percent had an unfavorable opinion of the party in general, while 25 percent rated it favorably.

The performance of Democratic lawmakers was disapproved of by 56 percent, with 33 expressing approval. For the party in general, 46 percent expressed disapproval, 38 percent approval.

Asked who they trusted to do a better job on the health- care issue, 47 percent said Obama, 31 percent said the Republicans. The president’s overall approval rating was 50 percent, unchanged from a similar survey in late July and early August.

“President Barack Obama’s approval rating has held at 50 percent over the past two months of high-intensity debate on health care and other issues,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Hamden, Connecticut-based university’s polling institute. “And while the spotlight is on the president, Republicans are taking a public-opinion pounding.”

At the same time, voters disapproved of the way Obama was handling health care, 51 percent to 41 percent. His health-care plan was opposed by 47 percent, supported by 40 percent.

What does all of this taken together suggeste? It suggests that:

  • Republicans have made inroads — but mostly in reactivating the party’s usual conservative talk show political culture base.
  • Republicans have been winning a chunk of independent voters. Most likely these are Republicans who had strayed from the GOP under President George W. Bush because they didn’t like his approach to governing, didn’t feel he was a real conservative, or felt the administration’s performance fell short.
  • Republicans still show a deficiency in winning over those who either do not already agree with them or who are not already inclined to agree with them.
  • Which boils down to the fundamental question: which party will benefit depending on how heath care reform comes out the most? Which party will in the end find it has expanded its coalition?

    Obama and the Democrats can’t succeed in the long run if their party is basically a partt of its base, particularly if only the progressive base is being pleased. And neither can the Republicans. Health care reform is but battle in this longer range political war.

    The cartoon by John Darkow, Columbia Daily Tribune, Missouri, is copyrighted and licensed to run on TMV. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited. All right reserved.