Quite a few progressive bloggers are arguing that the individual mandate will prove to be unpopular, and hold long-term, negative political consequences for Democrats. Current polling on the individual mandate is all over place, some showing strong support, some showing strong opposition (PDF, page 17), and some showing a split nation. This wide variation is due not only to wording, but also because people don't really understand the policy of the mandates yet, as Kaiser polling revealed in October. Still, even though the situation is in flux, I think those who argue that the individual mandate will ultimately have a negative political affect are largely correct.
The only place where I disagree, or would at least like to expand upon, those arguments, is to assert that every outcome to the health care fight will have severely negative political consequences for the Democratic Party. There is no happy political ending at this point; it is a matter of picking your poison.
In the extended entry, I provide a quick summary of possible outcomes.
|Here are some possible scenarios, some more possible than others:
If you oppose the bill at least partially because you believe it will result in negative political consequences for Democrats, well, you are probably correct in that assessment. However, don't delude yourself into thinking that defeating it somehow makes for a better political outcome. It won't, because there is no good political outcome at this point
- The bill passes, as is. The health care bill is very unpopular, at least relative to almost every other law Congress has passed over the last 16 years. This will have the short-term consequence of public blowback, and the long-term consequence of the individual mandate. Oh yeah, and advocates of stronger health care reform grow more dejected.
- The bill passes, without the individual mandate. In this extreme long-shot scenario, the bill is still unpopular. Public blowback anyway. Advocates of stronger health care reform still grow more dejected. Health care costs probably rise even faster, resulting in different, though still negative, long-term political consequences.
- The bill is defeated by Republicans and conservative Democrats. If this happens, then ineffective Democrats were stopped from passing an unpopular bill by heroic conservatives. Democrats still have an unpopular bill hung around their neck anyway, but now people turn even harder to the teabaggers in the short term due to their heroic effort to defeat the bill. Advocates of stronger health care reform still grow more dejected. Democratic rank and file, which still largely likes the bill (despite some movement in the other direction) also grows even more dejected.
- The bill is defeated by Republicans and progressive Democrats. Everything from #3, plus a much more difficult political environment for progressive candidates who are facing Democratic primaries against White House backed candidates.
This is about picking your poison, not about finding a happy ending. I have been arguing that #4 would be a dangerous route, because we can still make Progressive / progressive gains in Congress even in the current, negative political environment for Democrats. If our primary candidates start arguing against the health care bill, their chances in those primaries drop rapidly.
This is not an abstract worry. Consider, for example, the emerging shape of Regina Thomas's challenge against White House backed Blue Dog, John Barrow:
Thomas lamented Barrow's recent votes against an Obama-backed health care bill and for a ban on using federal funds for most abortions.
"Barrow ran last year on a commitment to improve health care," she said. "He's saying one thing and doing something else."
She also observed Barrow has said he is pro-choice on abortions.
"Why won't he level with the people?" she asked. "The people in the 12th District deserve better."
Barrow spokeswoman Jane Brodsky rejected Thomas' contentions.
"(He) didn't vote against President Obama's health care plan," Brodsky said. "He voted against (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi's. ...
Barrow is on the defensive in this campaign because of his vote against health care. Notice how he does not want to say that he is against President Obama's health care plan, because he knows that would be political death in this district (where two-thirds of the primary votes are African-American). Barrow won in 2008 because he won the 2008 campaign almost entirely because of an ad Obama cut for him, but he looks to be in trouble now. If the positions were reversed, and Thomas was arguing against Obmaa's health care plan, the voters in the district would turn against her, and the campaign would be over whether or not the White House cuts another ad for Barrow.
And it isn't just this campaign. We will lose every single primary with a progressive Dem against a Blue Dog type Dem if the White House candidates are arguing in favor of President Obama's health care plan, and our candidates are arguing against it. And the health bill probably passes anyway, so we end up with nothing.
Other issues may be different than health care, where it is the White House, not progressive activists, who have broken with the majority of the Democratic rank and file. Also, I admit, we might lose all of these primaries anyway. However, I, for one, would at least like to have a shot in those primaries.