Push­ing vot­ers to the GOP

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Don­ald Lam­bro

The White House re­mains in deep de­nial about the grow­ing un­pop­u­lar­ity of Pres­i­dent Obama’s gov­ern­ment health care plan.

Re­cent polls not only show that a clear ma­jor­ity of vot­ers dis­ap­prove of his gov­ern­men­trun en­ti­tle­ment plan; they also show that key groups who make up that ma­jor­ity — se­niors and in­de­pen­dents — are now mov­ing away from the Democrats and to­ward Repub­li­cans in the 2010 elec­tion cy­cle.

Yet there was White House Press Sec­re­tary Robert Gibbs on Sept. 28 telling re­porters “the pres­i­dent be­lieves health care is in bet­ter shape [. . .] we think health care is in a bet­ter place.”

But the highly re­garded Ras­mussen poll re­ported ear­lier Sept. 28 that “just 41 per­cent of vot­ers na­tion­wide now fa­vor the health care re­form pro­posed by Pres­i­dent Obama and con­gres­sional Democrats. That’s down two points from a week ago and the low­est level of sup­port yet mea­sured.”

The Ras­mussen poll shows that a 56 per­cent ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans now op­pose the plan, and a slight 47 per­cent to 46 per­cent plu­ral­ity say that its pas­sage is un­likely.

Per­haps most telling of all, se­nior cit­i­zens are strongly op­posed to the $1 tril­lion plan — with a mus­cu­lar 59 per­cent of them op­posed and just 33 per­cent in fa­vor. Sig­nif­i­cantly, only 16 per­cent of Amer­i­cans over 65 years of age “strongly fa­vor” the Demo­cratic bills, while 46 per­cent are “strongly op­posed.”

The White House-backed plan would be largely fi­nanced by up to $500 bil­lion in Medi­care and Med­i­caid spending cuts that the el­derly fear would lead to re­duced med­i­cal pay­ments, hospi­tal ser­vices and other health care pro­ce­dures. The ad­min­is­tra­tion and Demo­cratic leaders deny this, say­ing they in­tend to cut only waste, fraud and abuse from the pro­grams.

But there is also wide­spread doubt among rank-and-file Democrats in Congress that you can carve nearly $400 bil­lion out of Medi­care’s bud­get without short-chang­ing med­i­cal care for the na­tion’s el­derly.

And there’s also grow­ing fear that the deep cuts that would be re­quired to bankroll Mr. Obama’s costly health care plan will lead to a back­lash among se­niors in the 2010 midterm elec­tions.

Mr. Obama has tried to turn the health care de­bate into a war against big in­sur­ance com­pa­nies, wrongly be­liev­ing that most Amer­i­cans think, as he ap­par­ently does, that the health in­sur­ance in­dus­try is de­vi­ous, dis­hon­est and un­scrupu­lous. But most Amer­i­cans don’t be­lieve this.

“The most im­por­tant fun­da­men­tal is that 68 per­cent of Amer­i­can vot­ers have health­in­sur­ance cov­er­age they rate good or ex­cel­lent. [. . .] Most of th­ese vot­ers ap­proach the health­care re­form de­bate fear­ing that they have more to lose than to gain,” poll­ster Scott Ras­mussen wrote re­cently in the Wall Street Jour­nal.

A pre­scient po­lit­i­cal ob­ser­va­tion is at the core of the Repub­li­cans’ strat­egy to de­feat the Democrats’ bill: Fo­cus on the re­spec­tive parts that vot­ers fear most — penalty-en­forced fed­eral man­dates on strug­gling mid­dle­class in­di­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies to buy health in­sur­ance that will squeeze their fi­nances; fees on small busi­nesses fight­ing to sur­vive that do not pro­vide health care; man­dates that will raise health in­sur­ance costs on every­one; and the cre­ation of yet an- other gov­ern­ment en­ti­tle­ment pro­gram when Medi­care, Med­i­caid and So­cial Se­cu­rity are near­ing the brink of in­sol­vency.

“There is no po­lit­i­cal down­side for Repub­li­cans to op­pose health­care bills that will raise in­sur­ance pre­mi­ums, hike taxes, or ex­pand the moun­tain of fed­eral debt,” Repub­li­can Party poll­ster Whit Ayres wrote this week at the Politico Web site.

Mr. Ayres’ polling finds that “[b]y a mar­gin of 52 per­cent to 39 per­cent, vot­ers pre­fer a plan that ‘does not pro­vide health in­sur­ance to all Amer­i­cans but keeps taxes at cur­rent lev­els’ over a plan that ‘raises taxes in or­der to pro­vide health in­sur­ance to all Amer­i­cans.’ “

Mr. Ayres also finds that two of the big­gest vot­ing blocs have turned against Oba­macare: in­de­pen­dent vot­ers, who “think far more like Repub­li­cans than like Democrats,” and se­niors, many of whom will lose their pop­u­lar Medi­care Ad­van­tage (Medi­care plus pri­vate in­sur­ance) plans.

“Demo­cratic bills tar­get Medi­care Ad­van­tage for dras­tic cuts or elim­i­na­tion, which would deny the al­most onequar­ter of se­niors who have cho­sen Medi­care Ad­van­tage plans as their pre­ferred op­tion,” he says.

If the Democrats suc­ceed in ram­rod­ding their plans into law over fierce pub­lic op­po­si­tion, “they will cre­ate an enor­mous po­lit­i­cal back­lash that will open the door for Repub­li­cans to re­take con­trol of Congress” in 2010, just as the Repub­li­can Party did af­ter the Hil­larycare de­ba­cle in 1994, he warned.

This is not an idle Repub­li­can po­lit­i­cal threat. Se­nate Democrats such as Harry Reid of Ne­vada, Christo­pher J. Dodd of Con­necti­cut, Michael Ben­net in Colorado and Bar­bara Boxer of Cal­i­for­nia are run­ning be­hind in their re­spec­tive bids to keep their jobs. And races for sev­eral open Repub­li­can seats are sur­pris­ingly tight in Ohio, Mis­souri and New Hamp­shire.

There is a lot more rid­ing on Mr. Obama’s health care gam­ble than just its leg­isla­tive prospects. There is also the risk of a much weaker Demo­cratic con­gres­sional ma­jor­ity in the last two years of his pres­i­dency.

Don­ald Lam­bro is chief po­lit­i­cal cor­re­spon­dent for The Wash­ing­ton Times.

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