Critical Condition

How Good the Start of 2010 Would Have Looked in Early 2009

Think back to Inauguration Day, when “hope” and “change” hung in the air and the Democrats welcomed huge majorities into both chambers of Congress. Then imagine that a little bird, holding out against the winter, had flown by and told you that Obamacare would, as expected, become the president’s main legislative initiative, but by the end of 2009, it would have failed to become law.

You would, of course, have wanted to hear more. The little bird would then have explained that the American people would rise up against Obamacare in the summer of 2009, making clear their displeasure with the president’s proposals, which were then still taking shape in Congress. In response, the president would double down in early September, making a rare address to a joint session of Congress and basically staking his whole presidency, or at least the bulk of his first term, on its passage.

The congressional Democrats would rally and be strengthened in their desire to ignore public opinion and to forge ahead. Public support for Obamacare would rise slightly, but only temporarily, before plummeting still further as the year progressed. At year’s end, most polls would show double-digit deficits for Obamacare, and even greater deficits among voters who held strong opinions on the matter. Support among independents would seem to have waned the most. One poll (Rasmussen, December 28) would show independents opposing Obamacare by a margin of 66 percent to 28 percent.

Furthermore (the little bird would say), aside from the defection of Arlen Specter to the Democratic party early in the year, the Democrats would succeed in coaxing only one Republican to support the most important version of Obamacare in committee (the version that would emerge from the Senate Finance Committee), would fail to lure a single Republican to support the cloture vote in the Senate, and would hook only one Republican in the House — and him only after the needed 218 votes had already been secured.

In all, Republicans would stay more than 99.5 percent united on the defining floor votes. And Obamacare would clear the bar with just two votes to spare in the House and zero in the Senate, where the Democrats couldn’t even manage to pass a version until December 24, having had to resort to that body’s first Christmas Eve vote since the 19th century.

In addition, the two chambers’ bills would be notably different, especially in regard to whether they would permit taxpayer financing of health-insurance plans that cover abortion. The wave of pro-life Democrats in largely Republican House seats would demand that the legislation not include such plans; Senate Democrats would refuse to concur. And the “public option” would be in one bill but not in the other.

So, as 2010 began, the circumstances would be as follows: Public opinion would be clearly and solidly against Obamacare; Democrats would have passed separate bills with the support of only one Republican, by votes of 220–215 (needing 218) in the House and 60–39 (needing 60 for cloture) in the Senate. Now, with the divisive issue of abortion looming and other issues simmering, they would have to find a way to blend the bills, amid public discontent, without losing even three votes in the House, or any in the Senate.

If someone had told you at the start of 2009 that this would be the situation at year’s end, would you have felt demoralized — or rejuvenated? I suspect the latter. Buoyed in your hopes, you likely would have been ready to join the fight. And you should do so today.

If Democratic members listen to the American voters over the holidays, we might succeed in short order. But if the Democrats follow through on their apparent willingness to take the journey down Hillarycare Road to electoral suicide, we will likely succeed in the next two elections. Either way, we can prevail.

Compared to what we could realistically have expected on Inauguration Day, we’re in about the best place we could be. Now let’s fight hard in the short term, dig in for the long haul, and win this thing.

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