The Corner

Do They Really Believe in Obamacare?

The Congressional Insiders Poll in National Journal this week asks a cross-section of lawmakers a question that sheds some light on why Democratic party leaders continue to push Obamacare forward in such a politically reckless manner.

The insight: They honestly think its enactment would yield political dividends.

The National Journal asks: “If Congress enacts something close to President Obama’s health care reform plan, how would that affect your party in the midterm elections?”

The pool of respondents consists of 69 members of Congress: House and Senate; Republican and Democrat. They cover each party’s ideological waterfront — from Henry Waxman to Jim Cooper among Democrats and from Michele Bachmann to Olympia Snowe among Republicans. All ten Democratic senators in the pool voted for the Senate health-reform bill, of course, and all but six of the 59 Democratic House members did so. The members’ identities, moreover, are not linked to their responses.

Remarkably, 85 percent of the 44 Democrats who responded said passage of Obamacare would either help their party “a lot” (55 percent) or “a little” (32 percent). Almost all the explanations for why it would help are defensive and purely political in nature. In fact, only one response seems to come from the heart of a true believer who thinks the reforms will actually work. Among the political justifications:

“It’s getting something done, stupid.”

“It would regain a lot of the energy in our own base. Otherwise, we will be in deep trouble.”

“Democrats have to deliver. We are too far into this.”

“Passage means a Rose Garden signing ceremony and some immediate benefits. Failure to pass means incompetence despite our large majorities.”

The true believer, on the other hand, insists passage will help Democrats for more substantive reasons:

“If it passes, people see it’s not the end of the world and learn more about its benefits. The more they know about it, the more supportive they are.”

Every single Republican surveyed, in contrast, insists enactment will help the GOP to one extent or another, with 76 percent saying it would help “a lot” and the remaining 24 percent believing it would help “a little.”

Can we take these Democratic responses seriously, or are they just what we should expect from a cowering rank-and-file not wanting to incur the wrath of the speaker, the majority leader, and Rahm? Remember that, because this is essentially a private ballot, the respondents had every reason to be honest in their replies.

My guess is that most Democrats on the Hill are living in a parallel universe right now. They hear daily from an unrelenting Democratic base its support for whatever Team Obama wants. The cherry-picked poll results that dominate their political briefings are designed to reassure them that it’s okay to follow their leaders. (See the curious way Obama’s own pollster did this on Saturday’s Washington Post op-ed page.) They watch MSNBC, scour the liberal blogs, and read the New York Times editorial page. Most of all, they have faith. Faith that their young and charismatic president won’t let them down.

Their Republican colleagues, meanwhile, can’t believe what they see unfolding before their eyes. To them, passing a bill will prove much more damaging to Democrats in November than if they simply walked away from the health-reform table and focused on more important issues like job creation. As one Republican respondent told National Journal, the effort to pass Obamacare is nothing less than “an act of political suicide.” Another mused that if Obama care is enacted “the protests last summer will pale in comparison with the turnout next November.” The result, a third Republican predicted: “the Republicans will win the House, possibly by a wide margin.”

Has legislation of such magnitude ever provoked such wildly disparate assessments from the two national parties — not just in terms of its substance but also in what its enactment would mean politically?

All this is more evidence that the end game on Obamacare is nothing less than the legislative equivalent of total war, the sort of total war that visits Washington only once every few generations.

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