A new Gallup poll shows that, at best, Democrats did nothing to advance public support for their health care proposals during the August recess. According to the poll, a slight plurality of 39 percent said they would advise their member of Congress to vote against a health care bill compared to 37 percent who said they would ask them to vote for it. At the beginning of recess, 36 percent said vote against and 35 percent said vote for, so very little change. Remember, flash back to before the August recess, and this was being built up as the crucial phase for the health care debate, when Obama was going to have to build support for an initiative that was floundering. Now that he hasn’t been able to move the ball forward in over a month, we’re being told that the big event is really tomorrow’s speech.
The media has been promoting Obama’s Wednesday speech to a joint session of Congress as a major event that could shift the momentum in the health care debate, but I think it’s important not to get too carried away. I have no doubt that Obama has the ability to make a great speech that could momentarily boost support for health care legislation just as Bill Clinton’s speech did in September 1993, but no amount of rhetoric can change the fundamentals of the debate. The reason is that Americans may favor action on health care in the abstract, but get cold feet when they learn more about the details.
Once the pageantry of a major presidential address fades, lawmakers will still be stuck with the same set of problems that have plagued health care over the past few months. Liberals say that a bill can’t get through the House without a government plan, while moderate Democrats say a bill can’t get through the Senate with one. Any bill is likely to cost in the neighborhood of $1 trillion or more at a time of already unprecedented long-term debt, meaning paying for it will require a combination of tax increases and cuts to existing government programs. The major cost saving measures — electronic medical records, preventive care, a Medicare advisory commission — will not put a dent in health care spending, and in some instances, may exacerbate the problem. If you expand Medicaid, the governors will be up in arms about the cost to states unless the federal government picks up the tab — but either way we’d be adding to our massive entitlement burden. As much as Obama says people can keep their health care if they like it, there’s no way he can offer that guarantee, and some of the proposals actually would encourage businesses to change the coverage they currently offer. And all of this is playing out with the economy still weak and unemployment up to 9.7 percent despite Obama’s promises during the stimulus debate. I can go on and on, but the point is that whatever Obama says tomorrow night, and no matter how grand it is, it won’t change the big picture.
I’ve just returned from a vacation out west, which among other places, took me to Wyoming where I saw the majestic Grand Tetons and spent time at Yellowstone. While we were driving through the parks, we kept hitting construction on the roads, in some cases major portions of the national park highways were closed, requiring significant detours. I kept wondering why the heck there were all these road closures and construction during the height of the tourist season. Sure enough, I passed a sign boasting “your tax dollars at work” — encouraging me to visit Recovery.org. As if there weren’t already enough reasons for me to oppose the Obama stimulus package.