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Posted by on Feb 6, 2010 in At TMV | 22 comments

What good are the Democrats?

TnrCover_2-18-10That’s the question in big, bold letters on the cover the new New Republic. What TNR’s editors mean by that is what a lot of liberal writers have been saying since the morning after Scott Brown became the 41st Republican in the Senate. Does Barack Obama have the guts to get health care passed, or is he just another Democrat who gets scared and runs to the center when the GOP scores an occasional victory?

What’s unusual about the editorial in TNR is that it’s thoroughly contradicted by an article several pages further back in the magazine. Predictably, Republicans have described the Brown-Coakley election as a referendum on healthcare, whereas Democrats have disagreed. Yet this time around, the very liberal John Judis marshals an extensive amount of polling data to show that Massachusetts were, in fact, saying ‘no’ to ObamaCare. Judis never says so explicitly — perhaps anticipating a ferocious reaction from fellow pundits on the left — but his message is clearly that going forward on healthcare as if nothing happened would be political suicide.

While the party loyalists can blame Martha Coakley’s defeat on her ignorance of Red Sox baseball, it was clearly a message to the president and his party…

In fact, the percent of 2008 Obama voters who were backing Brown almost perfectly matched the percentage who were dissatisfied with Obama’s health care plan, which Brown himself singled out for criticism in his campaign. According to the Rasmussen exit sample, 52 percent of Brown voters rated health care as their top issue–a clear indication that they were viewing the election in national and not merely state terms…

The Suffolk University poll in Massachusetts, which like the PPP poll, was pretty much on target in the final result, singled out two white working-class towns, Gardner and Fitchburg, as bellwethers. Obama won Gardner, where Democrats hold a three-to-one registrations edge, by 59 percent to 31 percent in 2008. Brown won it by 56 percent to 42 percent. Obama won Fitchburg, with a similar Democratic edge, by 60 percent to 38 percent in 2008. Brown won it by 59 percent to 40 percent. That suggests a fairly dramatic shift among white working class voters.

There is no similar city or county gauge for how seniors voted in the final result, but there were prior polls. The Suffolk poll taken January 14 has some clues. The age group that most strongly favored Brown was sixty-five to seventy-four-year-olds by 58 to 38 percent. The same group opposed national health insurance by 48 percent to 28 percent and thought the federal government couldn’t afford such a plan by 66 percent to 33 percent. This age group also included the highest percentage of voters–41 percent–who said they “strongly opposed” Obama’s plan. And they were the one group (albeit narrowly) who disapproved of the job Obama was doing as president–by 45 percent to 44 percent.

If you look at national polls, Obama has suffered the greatest loss of approval among exactly the same groups. In the Pew polls, Obama suffered a drastic drop in support in the $30,000-$75,000 income group, from 63 percent to 17 percent approval in February 2009, to 53 percent to 35 percent disapproval in the January 14 poll. Among respondents over sixty-five years old, he went from 60 percent to 17 percent approval to 54 percent to 31 percent disapproval. In its January 2010 poll, Pew has a breakdown by race that is even more disturbing. Whites with some or no college–a rough designation for working-class whites–disapprove of Obama’s presidency by 54 percent to 36 percent.

The President and the Democrats in Congress probably didn’t know all those numbers when they began their flight from healthcare the morning after Brown’s election. But they seem to have gotten the message.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly

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  • JSpencer

    I believe a lot of the polling results related to HCR are reflective of the disinformation campaigning that steadily went on in opposition to it. How many of those people who were polled do you suppose have a real understanding of the plan, the numbers, the critical importance of addressing rising healthcare costs? How many of them grasp where the status quo is taking us? Throwing HCR aside is not a solution, and there is no rational solution being proposed by the republicans. Here’s the long and short of it: If the democrats abandon this, and don’t put some backbone into passing it via the reconcilation process then they are toast.

    • ProfElwood

      there is no rational solution being proposed by the republicans.

      True that. But, if you look objectively at the Democratic plans, all of them, you’ll see that they weren’t either. We’ll need to free congress of its addiction to lobbyist money before they’ll be able to consider something useful. The states also play a big role in this mess, so they’ll have to get in the act in order to bring down costs and get the scary cutoff question answered.

    • DLS

      “there is no rational solution being proposed by the [R]epublicans”

      [struggling to hold false straight face]

      There is with Medicare. I was only being facetious when I provided the ultimate solution to the problem of increasing federal costs for this, that, or any program — just end it. However–look here (below). The Dem raid on Medicare is clumsy and deserves criticism (if not condemnation). That doesn’t make the GOP innocent, of course:

      “Republicans have proposed some serious ideas recently. […] [P]ut forward by Paul Ryan […] is the ‘Roadmap for America’s Future’ budget proposal and it credibly claims to put America’s federal budget in surplus by 2080. The CBO agrees. How does it do that?

      Simple, it slashes Medicare. It slashes Medicare so deeply that the Democrats’ proposal for $500 billion in savings over ten years, which Republicans demonised, looks like child’s play. Under Mr Ryan’s proposal, starting in 2021, Medicare would be gradually eliminated. Instead, seniors would be issued vouchers to buy private health insurance.”

      “Mr Ryan wants to give 65-year-olds a $7,900 voucher to buy insurance that will, under optimistic assumptions, cost $10,800. What every senior citizen currently gets for free, under Medicare, will instead cost them an extra $2,900 a year, if they have it. For most, that will mean giving up benefits and getting less medical care, or going without insurance entirely. And every year, by design, Mr Ryan’s proposal will widen the gap between the voucher and the cost of medical care by 0.7%, even after accounting for the effect his proposal will have on holding down medical costs. Every year, seniors will get worse and worse care.”

      “There are two other really interesting things about Mr Ryan’s proposal. First of all, if you hit 65 before 2021, you still get Medicare, with all of its current perks. You’re grandfathered in. So if you’re 54 or over right now, his bill is a great deal for you: you get caviar, and everybody younger than you has to pay for it. Second, Mr Ryan’s proposal necessarily sets a flat nationwide amount for each voucher. […] So if you live in Nebraska, under Mr Ryan’s plan, you luck out. If you live in New Hampshire, not so much.”

      “Mr Ryan has put forward a serious proposal for shrinking medical-cost inflation and hence shrinking the long-term federal budget deficit. It does so by ending America’s provision of first-rate health care to all seniors. Rich seniors will still be able to afford high-quality medical care. Poor seniors won’t. They will suffer more and die younger. […] Mr Ryan proposes to simply slash Medicare spending and balance the budget on the backs of poor seniors. That’ll work[.]”

      • wynterz

        The article in the economist is wrong, first Medicare is not “free” to seniors. Medicare part A is “free” and is mandatory enrollment if you get Social Security. Actually using Medicare part A benefits can be costly though.
        Medicare part B many people pay for, I believe it starts $110.50 per month this year and goes up based on income. Medicaid covers that for lower income individuals. Again, actually using the benefits can be costly. If you go without Medicare part B however, you do not have any outpatient coverage.

        Medigap is there to cover some of the things that Medicare A and B do not, but that is costly in itself.

        Medicare part D is prescription coverage, and again can be costly, depending on what is covered and what isn’t.

        Medicare Advantage can include A, B and D and is not compatible with medigap. To get that you pay the part B premium, and also another premium to the insurance company. The deductibles and such vary by the policy.

        Medicare is not free, and Ryan’s plan would probably work very well as a replacement if anyone actually did a good analysis on it rather then trashing it out of hand.

        • DLS

          “The article in the economist is wrong, first Medicare is not ‘free’ to seniors.”

          I posted the article not only because I like and read the Economist, but because it was an example description of something the Republicans were doing.

          I’m perfectly aware that while the author says something is “free,” as in not being charged anything out of pocket, obviously with Medicare it’s more complicated.  The Part B “premiums” that Medicare beneficiaries pay only cover about 25% of the costs — the premiums are effectively very heavily subsidized, whereas most funds for Medicare Part B come out of general revenue, mandated by law.  This is one of the things the Trustees have attempted to warn the public about for many years in their annual reports on the status of Social Security and Medicare.  It is also what I refer to when I say that a gimmick some politicians might try to “solve” Medicare and Social Security, that isn’t a solution at all (because it still avoids the crucial matter of raising enough revenues or reducing expenditures) is to make all funding for these programs “mandatory.”

          “Medigap is there to cover some of the things that Medicare A and B do not, but that is costly in itself.”

          True.  The fact that there is “Medigap” insurance and that there is a “gap” shows another area for reform and change that can be made to Medicare.  (What’s with the separate Parts A, B, D so many years after the program’s inception, by the way, to name something else?)  Of course, reform of the current programs is the last thing that has been sought this year, one of the main problems this year.

  • DLS

    Go ahead — “learn” that “lesson,” and go farther left — go ahead, don’t plug the leak, but instead go right ahead and get a bigger gun and shoot a bigger hole in the bottom of your boat. Go right ahead.


  • DLS

    “Predictably, Republicans have described the Brown-Coakley election as a referendum on healthcare, whereas Democrats have disagreed.”

    It’s not a referendum on health care. It’s broader than that. It’s a referendum in going too far left and rushing (which itself has been stupid) to have the federal government attempt or seek far too much.

    If they got out of HUA mode and just passed ordinary reform, they’d reclaim some support from not only the skeptical “independents,” but also some confirmed critics on both the right and the farther left (the more intelligent and mature ones, who know they can’t have total federal takeover this year).

    They don’t even have to wait for the insurance companies to do something this year that cuts the insurers’ own throats, PR-wise (large rate increases, large number of dropped “insureds,” big reduction in payments to providers and loss to insureds of access as a result, etc.).

    Instead, they’re currently preoccupied with fumbling what ought to have been a trivial matter (Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell).

  • In my humble opinion, the Democratic Party has only one use, and that is to prevent overreach of power by Republicans.

    Conversely, the Republican Party has only one use, and that is to prevent overreach of power by Democrats.

    Other than that, both parties are completely useless.

    • dduck12

      Sad, but mostly true.

  • DLS

    “the Republican Party has only one use, and that is to prevent overreach of power by Democrats”

    That’s all they’re good for, currently.

    Why can’t the GOP be hijacked by fans of Friedman or Hayek? “From Big Brother Back to Umpire”

    • ProfElwood

      Why can’t the GOP be hijacked by fans of Friedman or Hayek?

      Their owners won’t allow it.

      • DLS

        “Their owners won’t allow it.”

        How much of that is the fault of the buyers, and that of the politicians selling themselves, I’m then led to ask.  [scowl]

        At this point, the GOP and conservatism remains in a state of dysfunctionality, and I say that they should fall back on traditionalist and more authoritarian conservatism and just outsource their party’s functions to someone who already knows how do to this, Heritage.  (The point isn’t to say I want it to be this way; I’m more libertarian-leaning and am a Friedman fan.  Keep scalpels out of the hands of 800-pound gorillas, is my view.  The point is that with Heritage, like them or not, you have a standard-right blueprint-style US conservatism that’s from an organization that is what the GOP currently isn’t, namely coherent and purposeful.)

        The GOP should just outsource themselves to these folks.

  • kritt11

    When two parties are as diametrically opposed to each other as the Democrats and Republicans are, and the country is as polarized as it is, it is difficult for either party to effect fundamental change to the status quo. And As long as the GOP can recover its lost luster by making the opposition seem useless, incompetent and wasteful, it will refuse to work in cooperation with them. Which means that every single Democrat must be on board for the healthcare bill to pass.
    The final bill may end up toothless and full of loopholes, or may create more problems than it solves.

  • elrod

    The GOP DID outsource themselves to Heritage beginning in 1981. The problem was that the policies advanced by Heritage are incredibly unpopular and generally destructive. Note the GOP’s disastrous Social Security partial privatization scheme in 2005 that is now coming back out of the woodwork (mostly because Rep. Ryan is the only Republican with the integrity to put up an alternative slate of solutions, irresponsible as they are). Excessive deregulation and free market extremism allowed the banks to make and collateralize loans as irresponsibly as they did; it wasn’t some liberal CRA program that forced bankers to lend to undeserving minorities. It was the desire for more cash on Wall Street and a system the obfuscated the real risk so that lenders didn’t even feel the need to do due diligence on borrowers.

    As to the larger point in Adesnik’s post, why do these generally older working class whites oppose Obama’s health care reform so much? Here’s a hint. It’s not “fear of big government” that’s driving them. It’s fear that the health care plan will undermine Medicare. In other words, they don’t want their own massive government program weakened to pay for a different one that benefits somebody else. That’s not a call for conservatism. That’s a rival interest group claim for the same big government.

  • DLS

    “The GOP DID outsource themselves to Heritage beginning in 1981.”

    That’s news to the rest of us, not to mention the critics at Heritage, Elrod.

    “Here’s a hint. It’s not ‘fear of big government’ that’s driving them. It’s fear that the health care plan will undermine Medicare. In other words, they don’t want their own massive government program weakened to pay for a different one that benefits somebody else.”

    I would say with these people, it’s both that are at work. You also neglect all the other people who also object not only or merely to the health care “reform” effort (now scaled back; we don’t yet know what form it eventually will take, and of course more will be coming in the years to come; this is not the early 1990s and we won’t be waiting forever for more action). So much of the public objects in general to the overreach and the too-far-leftward lunge the Dems (notably the House lib Dems) have made this past year. This was not the “Change” most voters ever sought in 2008 (or in 2006).

    Finally, with respect to Medicare, even those people on Medicare (if they qualify for Medicare, even if they don’t seek it, they risk being dumped on it by insurers and employers; were you aware of that?) that the current program is far from perfect and is unsustainable in its current form, and logically should be set right and Social Security, in fact, set right before expanding entitlements to other parts of the population. (Of course, logic was the first thing to go in the campaign before and after the election.)

  • elrod

    But what does “setting Medicare right” actually mean? If we’re talking about older voters – and the statistics pinpoint older voters as most opposed to health reform (older voters were also most anti-Obama in 2008 so there is some overlap) – then we can assume that they are concerned more about their own Medicare coverage than they are about the longterm solvency of it (not to say they don’t care about that too, but self-interest demands a focus on current benefits).

    There is a way out of this. Instead of funding health reform with cuts in Medicare Advantage, just don’t bother coming up with any funding source. The GOP did that with the Prescription Drug Act in 2003 and it doesn’t seem to bother them one bit.

    Or if one wishes to be fiscally responsible, why don’t they just raise taxes to cover it. Raise income taxes, raise the Medicare tax, raise the FICA tax (and don’t cap it at $125k or wherever it is now). A combined raise in taxes would be a pittance compared to the annual increase in health premiums and college tuition.

  • DLS

    For those who were curious, the second of two (2) serious ideas of the Republicans identified by the blogger at the Economist is this. I was against it, because it was easy political cover for a tax hike (I don’t have confidence in any spending reform). But the point here is clear:

    “One idea Republicans had been pushing was a proposal for a bipartisan commission to recommend tough deficit-reduction measures.”

    “But then the Obama administration decided to embrace the idea. And, lo and behold, as Mike Allen reported in Politico last week, the Republicans promptly turned on their heels and repudiated it.”

    • JSpencer

      It’s not a referendum on health care. It’s broader than that.

      Agreed. The struggle for HCR is only a symptom. The broader referendum is really about (cut to the chase) the increasing level of stupidity that infects the electorate. As the power of the corporate media continues to increase, that condition will only worsen.

      • DLS

        “The broader referendum is on (time to cut to the chase) the increasing level of stupidity that inhabits the electorate. They let others dictate their thinking for them.”

        Note that even many of these people (as well as better-read, ideological “progressives” like you) have second thoughts about the Dems (you did all along) and the Obama administration.  In addition to a massive rush to grow the federal government, we’re not seeing in this past year a track record of successes (in fact, the opposite).

    • wynterz

      The Republicans back a plan and voted for a plan that did not have the power to look at raising taxes.

      My personal opinion is that Congress made this mess, and a commission is just a way for them to protect themselves politically.

      Now I do recall some left blogs saying the commission was not to be feared since it would require 8 of the 12 to agree and have to pass both houses by a three fifths majority if they did come up with anything, it was highly unlikely they would actually be able to come up with anything and they would not have to report until after November. Nice timing that.

      • DLS

        “My personal opinion is that Congress made this mess, and a commission is just a way for them to protect themselves politically.”

        Of course, it is.  Having a bipartisan commission (actually, overloaded with Dems), having at least one Republican on the commission, is political cover for tax increases.  (It also is political cover for benefit reductions, but I won’t believe there will be any benefit reductions or constraings in growth of benefits or costs, until it actually happens someday.)

      • DLS

        “a commission is just a way for them to protect themselves politically”

        Obama is inviting the Republicans to a health care “summit” — this could be more political cover (not only for whatever ends up being sought later this year, but political cover and blame-shifting on the Republicans for Obama administration and Congressional Dem failures so far on this issue — and it’s a setup to blame the Republicans if Obama or the Dems choose to give up on health care after an unfruitful summit).

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