What’s Plan B for Democrats?

By
Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 2:34 pm
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) at a rally for health reform in October (Jay Mallin/ZUMA Press)

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) at a rally for health reform in October (Jay Mallin/ZUMA Press)

It was meant to be a populist legislative victory that would usher Democrats straight through the 2010 midterm elections: a sweeping health care reform bill offering affordable coverage to tens of millions of uninsured Americans, while preventing insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions.

Then came Massachusetts.

[Congress1] In the wake of Republican Scott Brown’s stunning Senate victory in the Bay State Tuesday, Republicans are already spinning the outcome as a damning referendum on the Democrats’ partisan health reform proposal. The validity of the claim is debatable, as many political experts say the voters’ anger is more likely a response to the nation’s still-struggling economy. Still, with polls indicating that health reform has become more liability than asset, Democrats are scrambling for ways to put health care in the rearview mirror and make room for more tangible election-year items: taking on Wall Street and tackling the unemployment crisis.

Democrats can’t abandon their health reform bill, many experts say, but nor can they rely on it alone for success in November.

“There’s no question that this has got to make the Democrats queasy about health care reform,” Henry E. Brady, dean of the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, said of the Massachusetts contest. “But the reason they’re getting clobbered on the health care bill is the economy. That’s what they’re going to live and die on.”

“There’s a much larger discontent that’s demoralized the average Democratic voter in Massachusetts, and that’s the state of the economy,” agreed Michael L. Mezey, a political science professor at DePaul University. “They want to get health care behind them, and the administration is going to pivot to more populist themes.”

David Epstein, an expert on congressional politics at Columbia University, compared the health reform bill to another consequential, but controversial, Democratic initiative: the sweeping deficit-reduction legislation passed by the Clinton administration in 1993. That law eventually helped the country achieve billions of dollars in budget surpluses, but because it took a few years to realize the gains, the accomplishment offered Democrats few immediate political advantages. Indeed, the Republicans swept to power just a year later.

“It was a great piece of public policy, but it didn’t help them [Democrats] in the [1994] midterms,” Epstein said. In a similar vein, he added, “just health care is not doing it right now.”

Democrats seem to have gotten the message. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) indicated Tuesday that, after health care, the Democrats will turn their attention quickly to the economy — and keep it there through the year. “Creation of jobs and the policies which will return us to fiscal balance will be our focus,” Hoyer said.

Later, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, issued a statement summarizing the Democrats’ election-year message. It boasted of the “economic progress” under Democratic leadership, but there was no mention of health care reform.

Still, Democrats can’t entirely abandon their top domestic priority at this late stage in the debate. As tough as it might be for some Democrats to explain to constituents their support for the bill, detailing its failure would be even tougher.

“They’re going to look like the gang that can’t shoot straight,” said Mezey. “Not passing it would be a big problem.”

Gary C. Jacobson, a political science professor at the University of California at San Diego, agreed. “Folding at this point,” he said, “might be more dangerous than just plowing on.”

Brown’s victory Tuesday was never supposed to be. Not only is Massachusetts among the most loyally Democratic states in the country, but the contest was staged to fill the seat vacated by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), a lifelong champion of health care reform and an author of one of the early versions of the Democrats’ proposal.

Republicans were quick to claim Brown’s win as an indictment of the Democrats’ health reform bill. “The voters in Massachusetts, like Americans everywhere, have made it abundantly clear where they stand on health care,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement. “They don’t want this bill and want Washington to listen to them.”

The episode has left Democratic leaders struggling to locate populist issues that voters will embrace. Epstein suggested that financial regulatory reform would be such an issue. “It’s good for them both as politics and policy,” Epstein said. “If you’re looking ahead, that’s the issue that will make or break the Democrats in the midterm elections.”

Not that the Democrats don’t already have some legislative trophies to carry with them on the campaign trail. In the last 12 months, President Obama has signed bills to prevent workplace pay discrimination, expand children’s health care coverage and protect consumers from the most abusive traps of credit card companies. And the Democrats’ $787 billion stimulus bill — which has taken its share of lumps from both sides of the aisle — is also widely credited with preventing the economy from sinking much lower.

Still, Democrats could have done much more to excite the populist base that swept them to victories in 2006 and 2008. Party leaders, for example, ignored calls from a host of prominent economists who warned that the $800 billion stimulus was much too small to tackle the Great Recession. More recently, the White House abandoned its earlier support for mortgage bankruptcy reform, paving the way for the bill’s failure in the Senate. And while consumer advocates have applauded the credit card reforms enacted last spring, they were also critical that Democrats, bowing to pressure from the finance industry, delayed the effective date of those changes until this year.

In the wake of Tuesday’s election in Massachusetts, MoveOn.org sent its members an email message indicative of many liberals’ discontent with the Democrats. “Pass real health care reform,” the email said. “Rein in Wall street. Take on the banks and special interests that stand in the way of change.”

Before they can move to the economy, though, Democratic leaders will have to decide how to pass their health reforms with just 59 seats in Senate. Under one scenario, the House could simply take up the Senate-passed bill. Many House Democrats, however, have blasted that proposal from both the right and the left, leaving the success of that option in question. Furthermore, many moderate House Democrats who supported health reform the first time through might get cold feet after witnessing Brown’s victory in Massachusetts. That election, Brady said, “makes it so much easier for people in the House not to vote for it.”

Some experts argue that the Democrats have spent so much time, energy and political capital on health care reform that they won’t be able to ignore it on the campaign trail.

“They’ll have to campaign on it,” said Jacobson. “They’re pretty well committed at this point. If they’re not going to defend what they’ve done then they’re hopeless.”

Furthermore, with unemployment still hovering in double digits, it’ll be difficult for lawmakers to campaign on what is perhaps their most significant accomplishment of the last year: the string of government interventions that prevented the recession from becoming a depression.

“It’s tough to make the case that, ‘Had we not done this, things would be worse,’” Mezey said. “People are going to say, ‘Well, things are still pretty bad now, what are you going to do about it?’”

Hoyer, for his part, had a response. “We’ve been trying to do something about it,” he said in the Capitol Tuesday. “I think we’re making success. … But until the numbers turn around, until the economy is creating jobs, until there is more stability, people are going to be angry. And that, I think, is manifested throughout the country — not just in Massachusetts.”

Comments

8 Comments

uberVU - social comments
Trackback posted January 20, 2010 @ 4:56 pm

Social comments and analytics for this post…

This post was mentioned on Twitter by TWI_news: What’s Plan B for Democrats? http://bit.ly/7kA0gK...


Greg Krueger
Comment posted January 20, 2010 @ 5:03 pm

What the loss in MA really means is that the Democrats need to actually work with their counterparts (aka Republicans) to find reforms to Health Care that are not polarizing and unaffordable for the United States.


strangely_enough
Comment posted January 20, 2010 @ 5:54 pm

That would require Republicans actually interested in working with Democrats. Those seem to be nonexistent.


carrwatt
Comment posted January 21, 2010 @ 1:39 pm

Too Funny!!

Check this video out — Hitler Finds Out Scott Brown Won Massachusetts Senate Seat http://youtu.be/c4aQCiRjvZY


arjayt
Comment posted January 23, 2010 @ 10:01 am

WaTimes: “Some experts argue that the Democrats have spent so much time, energy and political capital on health care reform that they won’t be able to ignore it on the campaign trail.

The real issue hasn’t changed; the health care costs per person (which have to be paid for in some way) are still going to go from a current $7000 per year to $11500 per year in 2016. Those who ‘can’t afford it’ are still consuming $7000 a year that are being picked up by everyone else and this process will only get much worse. Even if the congress went to a ‘bare bones measure’ that could be supported by rational Republicans (not do-nothing reactionaries), the healthcare process might increase by a mere $300 a year and become $8800. Even if rational Democrats (not socialists who can’t count anything) were to increase coverage to citizens paying into the health care system, like several million unemployed, the total costs might still come out as $9000 per year by 2016. Do the Democrats and Republicans wait until 2020 when the per person price tag for staying healthy reaches $16,000 or $17,000? It still comes out as an economic catastrophe regardless of whether the gridlock is created by a political “party” or their respective special interest “owners”.

A wellness system could have began 30 years ago and incrementally increased the medical infrastructure and personnel to the point that a third of the American people didn't use Emergency Rooms out of desperation. The reason no such progress is possible is because of permanent gridlock that both “parties” have created to subvert the 'General Welfare' and 'Justice' covenants of the Constitution.

Note some 2009 medical community comments: (Item 1) “Private insurance companies escape real regulation.” (Item 2) “We urgently need tort reform, but it's nowhere to be seen.” (Item 3) “’Prevention’ won't magically make costs go down.” (Item 4) “Reform efforts don't address our critical shortage of health-care workers.” (Item 5) “We need more primary-care physicians — but we also need specialists.” (Item 6) “We have to streamline drug development and shake up the Food and Drug Administration.” (Item 7) “We can't fund health-care reform by cutting payments to doctors.” (Item 8) “We can't forget about research.” (Item 9) “Cutting reimbursements could shut some hospitals down”

Perhaps a 'bare bones’ system might address items 4, 5, and 7 as expansion of the health care system infrastructure, partly now in all bills. Another bare bones process would be to make the physical environments of health care more cost effective (items 1, 8, and 9), already in some bills. A third process involves a universal health data system and network that affects virtually all of the listed items. A bare bones system is a test of the congressional awareness of the catastrophe involved in $11500 per person by 2016. A simple up/down vote by congressmen on such a system would show if each Member knew what 'progress’ really was and it would show whether the Independent patriots of the Nation needed to sharpen their bayonets for November.


arjayt
Comment posted January 23, 2010 @ 3:01 pm

WaTimes: “Some experts argue that the Democrats have spent so much time, energy and political capital on health care reform that they won’t be able to ignore it on the campaign trail.

The real issue hasn’t changed; the health care costs per person (which have to be paid for in some way) are still going to go from a current $7000 per year to $11500 per year in 2016. Those who ‘can’t afford it’ are still consuming $7000 a year that are being picked up by everyone else and this process will only get much worse. Even if the congress went to a ‘bare bones measure’ that could be supported by rational Republicans (not do-nothing reactionaries), the healthcare process might increase by a mere $300 a year and become $8800. Even if rational Democrats (not socialists who can’t count anything) were to increase coverage to citizens paying into the health care system, like several million unemployed, the total costs might still come out as $9000 per year by 2016. Do the Democrats and Republicans wait until 2020 when the per person price tag for staying healthy reaches $16,000 or $17,000? It still comes out as an economic catastrophe regardless of whether the gridlock is created by a political “party” or their respective special interest “owners”.

A wellness system could have began 30 years ago and incrementally increased the medical infrastructure and personnel to the point that a third of the American people didn't use Emergency Rooms out of desperation. The reason no such progress is possible is because of permanent gridlock that both “parties” have created to subvert the 'General Welfare' and 'Justice' covenants of the Constitution.

Note some 2009 medical community comments: (Item 1) “Private insurance companies escape real regulation.” (Item 2) “We urgently need tort reform, but it's nowhere to be seen.” (Item 3) “’Prevention’ won't magically make costs go down.” (Item 4) “Reform efforts don't address our critical shortage of health-care workers.” (Item 5) “We need more primary-care physicians — but we also need specialists.” (Item 6) “We have to streamline drug development and shake up the Food and Drug Administration.” (Item 7) “We can't fund health-care reform by cutting payments to doctors.” (Item 8) “We can't forget about research.” (Item 9) “Cutting reimbursements could shut some hospitals down”

Perhaps a 'bare bones’ system might address items 4, 5, and 7 as expansion of the health care system infrastructure, partly now in all bills. Another bare bones process would be to make the physical environments of health care more cost effective (items 1, 8, and 9), already in some bills. A third process involves a universal health data system and network that affects virtually all of the listed items. A bare bones system is a test of the congressional awareness of the catastrophe involved in $11500 per person by 2016. A simple up/down vote by congressmen on such a system would show if each Member knew what 'progress’ really was and it would show whether the Independent patriots of the Nation needed to sharpen their bayonets for November.


louis vuitton handbags
Comment posted August 2, 2010 @ 7:32 am

A wellness system could have began 30 years ago and incrementally increased the medical infrastructure and personnel to the point that a third of the American people didn't use Emergency Rooms out of desperation. The reason no such progress is possible is because of permanent gridlock that both “parties” have created to subvert the 'General Welfare' and 'Justice' covenants of the Constitution.


World Spinner
Trackback posted December 10, 2010 @ 6:22 am

What's Plan B for Democrats?…

Here at World Spinner we are debating the same thing……


RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.