63% of Americans want to see Congress pass "a comprehensive health-care reform plan" (Washington Post/ABC poll)
As always, one has to speculate about the complicated tangle of diverse, conflicting, and no doubt partly inchoate desires, concerns, anxieties, understandings, and misunderstandings that underlie the results of this new Washington Post/ABC News poll. But the overall figures are striking and, it seems to me, politically significant.
When this sample was confronted directly with a choice between continuing the effort to pass "a comprehensive health-care reform plan" or giving up on the current effort (and that phrasing is significant, because one type of superficially appealing but substantively stupid "compromise" alternatives being floated by sectors of the commentariat is to try passing a disconnected, fragmentary, and incoherent set of the more popular bits in isolation), a full 63% "should keep trying to pass a comprehensive health care reform plan." Democratic respondents support this by 88%-8%, as do a smaller but solid majority of Independents. Even Republicans oppose it by only a 55%-42% margin (a finding that, I confess, surprised me slightly).
The more detailed findings also show that majorities of respondents in all categories are still wedded to the mirage of "bipartisan" cooperation.
Here, one intriguing wrinkle--and a slightly surprising one, at least for me--is that, while Democrats and Republicans are both inclined to place more blame for intransigence on the other side, a substantial proportion of Republican respondents, 44%, are critical of the Congressional Republicans for being too unwilling to compromise. Might this suggest that they really can't go on fooling everyone indefinitely? It would be nice to think so.
=> I can see two implications of these polling results that seem especially plausible and significant.
First, this would appear to provide one more piece of evidence that, even in terms of tactical political calculation, the sensible thing for the Democrats to do is to keep pushing ahead and Pass the Damn Bill. Most of the electorate wants to see some kind of "comprehensive health-care reform" passed, and if this latest effort collapses, the Democrats will get the blame.
Second, it is probably a good idea for Obama to be making a sustained and conspicuous effort at public dialogue with the Congressional Republicans in search of possible compromise and cooperation on health care reform. This is all a matter of going through the motions, since by now it's clear to anyone willing to face reality that the Congressional Republicans have no interest in substantive compromise, but instead are committed to a strategy of straightforward monolithic obstructionism that, so far, looks quite successful to them. But many members of the public (and of the commentariat) don't seem to grasp this basic political reality yet, so bringing that dynamic out into the open, and putting the Republicans on the spot so they have to put up or shut up, might well contribute to public education on these matters.
=> This is probably a good place to repeat a point I've made before. I do recognize that some people may find this Republican strategy of all-out obstructionism entirely justifiable, not just in terms of partisan advantage but in terms of the substantive issues at stake. They may feel that the Democrats' proposal--as it took shape over the course of 2009 in the context of the usual legislative sausage-making combined with unrelenting legislative trench warfare--is so radically defective and potentially disastrous that it has to be killed at all costs, and doing nothing really is a superior alternative. I believe that such a position is dramatically wrong, and that its success would be very harmful to the country, but at least this is a logically coherent position that faces up to the political realities and that could, in principle, be honestly defended.
On the other hand, to pretend that the Congressional Republicans have not been pursuing a monolithic strategy of rejection and obstruction means being unwilling to face reality. And more to the point, the Congressional Republicans realize that this purely negative kill-the-bill-at-all-costs position is not actually supported by most of the electorate, so they can't present it honestly. So if they are smoked out and forced to acknowledge their strategy of single-minded obstructionism, they stand to lose rather than gain in terms of public approval.
=> Jonathan Chait offers a nice analysis that puts all this in political and historical perspective (below). I think his conclusion makes good sense:
I don't put much stock in the public's ability to really define "comprehensive" reform. But it's pretty clear that the Republican pretense to really want to do reform, only just not this reform and not right now, is rooted in an understanding that their real position does not reflect public sentiment. There's been an enormous amount of bluster about popular repudiation of the Democratic health care plan. If Republicans truly thought the public shared their beliefs, they wouldn't be talking constantly about starting over and doing it right in a bipartisan fashion.Meanwhile, the most basic and important advice for the Democrats remains: "Don't panic!"
February 9, 2010
Why Republicans Say They Want To Start Over On Health Care
By Jonathan Chait
In 1994, when they were killing Bill Clinton's health care plan, Republicans promised over and over they just wanted to do it right. Start fresh and pass a real health care plan without all the bad socialist stuff:
"We don't have to do it all this year," [Bob Dole] said in the closing address to committee members. "We don't have to do any of it this year. You know, Congress meets every year.
"I see a lot of bright spots to (acting) next year." ...
"If they come up with something I can live with, I would support it, " said California state party Chairman Tirso del Junco, a surgeon. "But I do not believe that the plans presently on the table would be approved by the American people. To rush this through is bad news."
Of course, the Clinton plan died, and Republicans proceeded to do absolutely squat for the next fifteen years.
This year, when they're doing everything possible to kill President Obama's health care plan, Republicans again insist they just want to start over fresh, have a chance to enact a real bipartisan plan. Why do they say that? This is why:
I don't put much stock in the public's ability to really define "comprehensive" reform. But it's pretty clear that the Republican pretense to really want to do reform, only just not this reform and not right now, is rooted in an understanding that their real position does not reflect public sentiment. There's been an enormous amount of bluster about popular repudiation of the Democratic health care plan. If Republicans truly thought the public shared their beliefs, they wouldn't be talking constantly about starting over and doing it right in a bipartisan fashion.