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The political world's winners and losers in health-care reform

-- Joe Lieberman: Lieberman's high-profile opposition to the Medicare buy-in effectively killed the public option. Lieberman allies insist that the Connecticut independent was protecting moderate Democrats such as Lincoln by putting himself on the firing line, but the practical political effect of his maneuvering has been to further anger and energize the party's liberal base against him. Beating Lieberman in 2012 -- if he chooses to run -- will be a cause cèlébre among the liberal left.

-- Cap and trade: No matter what Obama and his advisers said last week in Copenhagen, there is now no chance that the administration's climate-change proposal will come up for a vote in the Senate prior to the 2010 election. Politicians never like casting controversial votes, but they like doing so even less in an election year.

-- Liberals: Progressives both in and outside the Senate watched as their dream bill slowly but surely lost the elements -- including the public option -- they longed for. Compromise is the name of the game when it comes to passing legislation as complex and sweeping as health-care reform, but that's not likely to be much consolation for a Democratic base already aggrieved about Obama's decision to send more troops to Afghanistan.

The big barometer

A new voter analysis of every midterm election from 1978 through 2006 suggests that the single most important number in determining how many House seats will be won or lost by the party in power is the president's job-approval score in the months leading up to the election.

The analysis, done by the Democratic polling firm of Bennett, Petts & Normington and obtained by the Fix, concludes that "large losses of more than 20 seats have only occurred when the president's approval rating has fallen significantly below 50 percent."

The four elections in which significant seat shifts happened -- 1978 (Democrats lost 15), 1982 (Republicans lost 26), 1994 (Democrats lost 54) and 2006 (Republicans lost 30) -- all corresponded with weak presidential job-approval numbers in the two months before voters cast ballots.

By contrast, in the four midterms in which the president carried an approval rating above 50 percent, his party either gained seats (in 1998 and 2002) or suffered minimal defeats -- a five-seat GOP setback for Ronald Reagan in 1986 and an eight-seat loss for George H.W. Bush in 1990.

Given the conclusiveness of that data, both parties are right to keep a close eye on Obama's standing with the American people over the next 10 months. In the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, 50 percent of the public approved of the job Obama was doing, data consistent with other surveys gauging perception of the president's job performance.

If that number goes up by five percentage points between now and Election Day 2010, history suggests Democrats will be looking at small-scale losses in the House. If it goes down by five points, the party's 40-seat majority could well be cut by half (or more).


Jen Psaki's rapid rise in Democratic operative circles continues apace with her promotion to deputy communications director at the White House. Psaki takes the place of Dan Pfeiffer -- Georgetown Hoya, class of 1998 -- who ascended to the top job following the departure of media consultant Anita Dunn. Psaki, a Connecticut native, cut her political chops as a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee during the 2006 election cycle and also worked on the 2004 presidential campaign of Sen. John Kerry (Mass.).

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