For weeks the real big assumption has been that today’s health care reform summit would be riskier to Republicans than Democrats. But a new Gallup poll indicates the summer is packed with political danger for the Democrats — perhaps moreso than for the Republicans.
And, specifically, it contains a big, fat political warning flag: most Americans will not be happy if the Democrats try to pass the bill via reconcilation:
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.
These results are based on questions included in a USA TODAY/Gallup poll of 1,009 Americans conducted Tuesday, Feb. 23.
Much discussion has focused on what President Obama and Democratic leaders will do if — as the general public anticipates — there is no agreement on a new bill emanating from Thursday’s summit. President Obama promulgated his proposed healthcare plan on Monday, and one option for the Democratic leadership is to go ahead and attempt to pass this type of bill without Republican buy-in.
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. It is thus not surprising to find strong partisan differences in response to both questions about passage of a new healthcare bill.
This poll shows the grave dilemma facing the Democrats: if health care reform is not passed the Democrats could find that some members of its party base (particularly progressives and younger voters) might not vote in 2010 when GOPers bolstered by angry Tea Party members or sympathizers can be expected to vote in droves. And if it uses reconciliation, there could be a price — unless there is a really glaring sound byte that comes out of today’s meeting that hurts the GOP.
In retrospect, all the intra party horse trading to reach a deal on health care reform, coupled with a strange assumption that the political clock was not ticking on when the party could use its majority to get a bill through, illustrates the massive miscalculation on the part of Obama and the Democrats to make this the public focus on efforts for a year — versus the still-ailing economy.
The poll suggests that in the end, the Democrats could pay a steeper price than they imagined — no matter which path they now choose.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.