After health reform

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Post asked political and experts to assess who won the big debate. Below are responses from Dan Schnur, Douglas E. Schoen, Ed Rogers, and Mary Beth Cahill.


Director of the University of Southern California's Unruh Institute of Politics; communications director for John McCain's 2000 presidential campaign

President Obama gets a win this week, but primarily by avoiding the type of loss that failing to pass a bill would have brought Democrats in November.

Because midterm elections are all about base motivation and turnout, the impact of health-care reform is going to revolve on which party can use it to rally their troops more effectively. As the party that's out of power, Republicans will still maintain an advantage on this front. While Democratic voters might not be as fired up as their GOP counterparts, the bill's passage gives them much more motivation than they would have had without it. A completely dispirited liberal base would have led to a blowout, but health-care reform and Wall Street regulation will provide them enough inspiration to keep Democratic losses at a less cataclysmic level.

The best thing for Republicans to do at this point is to change the subject. Their supporters are furious right now, but there are a lot of conservatives who have parents on Medicare and 20-something children who need coverage. Most Republican voters won't ever support the bill, but their current level of anger is bound to subside as they read and hear about those new benefits over the next several months.

Republicans may still be more motivated to turn out in the fall than Democrats, but health-care reform will not be the issue that does it.


Democratic pollster and author

Absent a bold new focus from President Obama, the victories of March -- no matter how historic -- will pale next to the electorate's deep-seated angst about the economic future. A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll completed right before the health-care vote found that only 39 percent of respondents favored the legislation, with 59 percent opposed. Other polls have consistently showed a solid majority against the health-care bill, and only around 40 percent supporting it. The president's job approval rating, though up slightly with the legislation's passage, was 41 percent on health care and 45 percent on the economy.

Democratic rhetoric in the health-care debate focused almost exclusively on predatory and rapacious insurance companies and the benefits that would kick in immediately. But these benefits do not address voters' fundamental concerns that the legislation will be extremely expensive, produce too much government involvement in the health-care system, and will ultimately have no effect or actually hurt them. Democrats must address the cost issue before the midterms.

It is swing voters, not the Democratic base, who will determine the outcome in November. To be sure, nobody is crying crocodile tears for insurance companies or big banks. But cracking down on private enterprise is not what motivates swing voters. People are far more concerned about what the Democrats intend to do to revive and revitalize the economy. Unemployment remains perilously close to 10 percent. The bipartisan $15 billion jobs bill was a small step in the right direction, but it's a drop in the bucket next to health care.

The Democrats must embrace a set of focused initiatives that put forth a message of job creation, job growth and entrepreneurship. Many economists agree that a broad-based payroll tax holiday would do much to stimulate employment, providing a direct and immediate tax credit for job creation. Such a holiday of the type the Kauffman Foundation and others have focused on is the best way to stimulate new hiring immediately and take advantage of any economic upturn. There also must be a fundamental focus on the role of education and training a workforce capable of meeting the challenges of the 21st century.


White House staffer to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush; chairman of BGR Group

Democrats claim that popular elements of President Obama's inelegant health-care plan will help them politically. Perhaps they are forgetting that almost half of the 35 million of those currently uninsured are simply being added to states' Medicaid roles, which will hurt already strained state governments.

If a stand-alone bill to vastly expand Medicaid were proposed, it would have been laughed out of town. If you thought the old Medicaid regime was cruel to consumers and harmful to state economies, wait till you see the new Obama Medicaid plan. Any current analysis of state budgets will show what a devastating blow this will be. Schools, community police, roads and other local services will have to suffer, even more than they are. People outside the Beltway will notice, and governors of both parties will not silently take the blame.

Even with all the built-in post-Obama delays, today's celebrations and fawning over the "historical achievement" of Obamacare will give way to the reality that someone must pay. And that someone will start with productive taxpayers and prudent state leaders outside Washington -- and end with Democratic politicians.


Manager of Sen. John Kerry's presidential campaign; former chief of staff to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy

Some argue that passage of the biggest advance in social justice since the Voting Rights Act will rally the liberal base. That is in part because some of the biggest beneficiaries are American women, who are so often key to Democratic victories.

The bill is an enormous advance in health services to women and families, guaranteeing maternity, newborn and pediatric services; preventative care and immunizations; increased family-planning services; and increased access to prescription drugs, which is critical to older women on fixed incomes.

Democratic female House members understood this and refused to let this bill die. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and pro-choice women stared down those who would have weakened further a woman's right to choose and refused to accept any compromise in the legislation that would undercut women's rights.

Abigail Adams would be proud. The Democrats remembered the ladies -- and they will benefit from it.

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