03 March 2010

Suicidal on healthcare?

Americans are ready to throw in the towel on the Democrats’ healthcare bill, according to recent polls. Democrats should too.

Failing support for the healthcare bill

It is little surprise to Americans that last Thursday’s publicly televised summit ended without an agreement on the healthcare bill—on Feb. 23, a USA Today/Gallup poll indicated that 77% of Americans predicted the stall (Newport). According to a Gallup poll on Jan. 20, 55% of Americans are ready to suspend work on the bill with only 32% believing it should be the top priority (Jones).
While the concept of universal healthcare is rooted in the democrats’ ideology and President Obama’s message of change, many Americans have expressed an opposing view on change. With the liberal state of Massachusetts electing republican Scott Brown to fill Edward Kennedy’s seat, the democratic supermajority in the Senate was spoiled—a shocking pronouncement of public discontent with the approach President Obama and democratic leaders have taken on healthcare reform (Lehigh).
Democrats are struggling to maintain support for the bill even within their own ranks. In an election year expected to be difficult for democrats, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) emphasized the need for democrats to more forward on healthcare regardless of the associated reelection hazard, urging, “we’re not here just to self-perpetuate our service in Congress” (Kronblut).
Passing the legislation without even a semblance of republican support would jeopardize hopes for democrats in the coming fall elections, especially because passing the bill would require the controversial use of reconciliation—a parliamentary procedure that allows budget items to become law with a simple majority vote. By a margin of 52% to 39%, Americans oppose this filibuster-dodging tactic, according to a Gallup poll on Feb. 23 (Newport).
So, should Democrats stop pushing health care?
Probably so. For democrats who face legitimate republican opposition, failing to listen to constituents could mean disaster in the coming election. Opposition to healthcare is voiced by Americans who view the healthcare reform bill as an effort to socialize healthcare or who simply don’t think the bill will help. It appears that the majority of Americans are not prepared to join other developed nations in offering healthcare as a social program.

Social policies in history

The essence of the healthcare debate follows in the tracks of previous social policy debates. It’s rooted in the same conflict between individual autonomy and a government-provided sense of security. Do Americans choose equality of opportunity or equality of benefits? Do they choose individual freedom (and responsibility) or do they look to social programs. Do they prefer the preservation of the free market or a more centrally controlled economy—more choices for the citizen, or more for his or her representatives in government? These questions have been asked before, and they’ll be asked again and again.
So what tips the balance?
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Social Security Act of 1935 and other New Deal measures forced Americans to ask the same basic questions. The result of each such policy battle seems to depend largely on the state of the economy and American prosperity. When life is hardest, these bills do best. With the great depression in full force throughout the 1930s, Americans looked to the government to solve the prevailing economic problems. This time of extreme crises led to the greatest steps in progressive legislation of the century. Americans chose government intervention and social programs because they were desperate for change and desperate for help.
Today, controversy has surrounded the government’s involvement in the auto and financial industries.
In the case of healthcare, Americans are not ready for change—not for drastic change. On Feb. 23, a Gallup poll indicated that Americans oppose, by a margin of 49% to 42%, the current democratic-style bill (Newport). The conditions are not dire enough to convince Americans to scrap their private insurance for broad public coverage.
Democrats seeking reelection ought to give healthcare a break to avoid political suicide.
Jones, J. M. (2010, January 22). In U.S., Majority Favors Suspending Work on Healthcare Bill. Retrieved March 2, 2010, from Gallup: http://www.gallup.com/poll/125327/Majority-Favors-Suspending-Work-Healthcare-Bill.aspx
Kornblut, A. E. (2010, March 1). Democrats will have votes for health bill, Obama aide says. Retrieved March 2, 2010, from The Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/28/AR2010022803243.html?wpisrc=nl_politics
Lehigh, S. (2010, January 22). Breaking up the healthcare bill. Retrieved March 2, 2010, from boston.com: http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2010/01/22/breaking_up_the_healthcare_bill/
Newport, F. (2010, February 25). Americans Tilt Against Democrats' Plans if Summit Fails. Retrieved March 2, 2010, from Gallup: http://www.gallup.com/poll/126191/Americans-Tilt-Against-Democrats-Plans-Summit-Fails.aspx

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