Sunday, January 02, 2011


Republicans, unsurprisingly, plan an early vote on health care repeal:

Incoming House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said the new Republican-controlled House will look to repeal Democratic health care overhaul legislation before President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address later this month....

Yes, it can't possibly pass with veto-proof majorities in both houses of Congress (assuming it can even pass the Senate at all). So it's purely symbolic -- "going through the motions" and "a public-relations stunt," as Steve Benen says. (But, of course, it's not just a hissyfit -- it's the opening salvo of the 2012 campaign. Republicans assume that the health care law is unpopular and will remain so forever. They want to put members of Congress on record again, for or against.)

Steve, however, thinks this is potentially good for Democrats. I wish I agreed:

But I continue to think there are opportunities here for Democrats. To hear Upton tell it, one of the very first votes House Republicans will cast in the new Congress is raising taxes on small businesses. And adding over a trillion dollars to the debt. And taking away health care coverage for millions. And making seniors pay more for prescription drugs while weakening Medicare. And allowing insurers to discriminate against children with pre-existing conditions.

To be sure, Republicans won't put it this way, but their rhetoric is irrelevant against the reality -- by voting for repeal of the Affordable Care Act, they're voting for the consequences that come with the law's elimination.

If Dems fail to go on the offensive on this, they're missing an opportunity.

Oh, Steve -- I'm sorry we disagree about the health care law as much as we do. And, really, we don't disagree that much about the law itself -- I think we'd both like it to be more progressive, but we agree that there are good things in the bill, and it could really be a good foundation for the future.

But I just think it would be extraordinarily difficult to get from where we are, in public opinion terms, to where we'd need to be in order for the public to have the reaction Steve hopes. It wouldn't be enough to just offer a recitation of the bill's selling points, in the way Steve describes -- that might work if Americans were logical, Spock-like creatures who based their beliefs on facts and facts alone.

Americans aren't like that.

Americans "know" many, many things that just aren't so. They "know" that government programs are horribly bureaucratic and don't work (even as many of them happily and efficiently avail themselves of Medicare and Social Security). They "know" that Democrats are irresponsible, budget-busting fiscal stewards (even though the only balanced budgets to be produced in D.C. in decades were in Bill Clinton's administration, and the Republican best known as a deficit scourge, Ronald Reagan, was one of the biggest budget-busters of all time).

On the health care law specifically, Americans "know" it will be horribly expensive. They "know" it will include "death panels." They "know" it's a government takeover of the health care system.

And they "know" that whatever is said by defenders of the law is a lie, just as they "know" that critics are telling the truth.

OK, that's not the whole country. But it's the segment of the country that was extremely motivated to vote in 2010, and will probably be the same way in 2012. It's not just teabaggers -- it's their swing-voter friends and neighbors, for whom the health care law (or at least the well-publicized caricatures of it) reinforced every ugly stereotype of the Democrats ever.

And that happened not because the law was so awful, but because the Democrats squandered every opportunity to push back against anti-reform propaganda, from the beginning of the effort to pass the law until the present day. So now the Democrats are so far behind that it isn't enough merely to sing the law's praises -- selling this law is like selling a tainted brand, Tylenol after the poisonings or BP after the oil spill.

I'm not saying Democrats should give up. I'm just saying it's a long, long slog. It's a fight that will be won, if it is won, primarily on the basis of emotion, not facts.

Frankly, if Democrats are going to win, they're going to win because of time. Their best hope is to let the law come into effect and say, after some time has passed, "Oh, you like that? That's Obamacare." (Of course, many provisions of the law don't take effect for years.)

On the other hand, there's one potentially huge pitfall for Republicans in their plan to fight the bill a hundred different ways (total repeal efforts, repeal efforts by pieces, defunding efforts, legal challenges): in the next two years, unemployment will still be high, and they'll be the party that seems obsessed with health care rather than the economy and jobs. That was the Democrats' downfall over the last two years; maybe now it will be the Republicans'.

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