Sunday looks like D-Day for President Obama’s push to overhaul health care. There is plenty of speculation flying around about votes in the coming days and what those mean for votes in November.
How will health care affect the political environment over the coming eight months? Some humble predictions:
1. Health care will only be a short-term political liability for Democrats if it doesn’t pass – if it does, it will be a short-term benefit.
The bitter battle over health care is one reason that voters are souring on everybody in Washington. The sooner that debate is over, the sooner Democrats can focus on things like regulatory reform and passing out money like Jack Nicholson’s Joker in Batman ’89 while asking, “Who do you trust?” – both of which are much easier to craft messages for.
But there’s more than that. The opposition to Obamacare (both official and unofficial) has highlighted long-term effects for the American health care system and federal budget – unfavorable comparisons to British and Canadian health care systems, excessive cost, and even shortages of care and care givers. These won’t take effect by November 2010 or even 2012.
If the health care overhaul passes – and the expected state challenges are quick and quiet – Democrats will trumpet their progress for the next three years while accusing Republicans of lies and scare tactics. Obama is right to link the passage of health care and his party’s political fortunes.
2. It’s probably going to pass, and it doesn’t matter how.
As Dan Flynn opines, the reason there hasn’t been a vote already is because there aren’t enough votes. Until Nancy Pelosi can amass 216 Democrats to support whatever parliamentary gymnastics she has to do to get a bill through the House, there will not be a vote. When the vote comes up, bet the house – it’s getting through.
3. The “Repeal Obamacare” movement will get less traction than one might expect.
Entitlements are the gifts that keep on giving. They don’t actually help end poverty, they don’t give people a comfortable retirement, and they don’t help people who have lost their jobs find new ones. They do provide platforms for politicians to promise even more entitlements. When entitlements fail to fix the problem they were meant to solve (or make it worse), the answer is generally to dump more funding into the failed program.
Even failed programs can be elevated to third-rail status. Remember the left-wing backlash against President George W. Bush’s Social Security reform? You can expect a similar reaction to future attempts to roll back Obamacare.
Like Social Security reform, real health care reform – that involves doing more than just getting more people into a broken system – will require a long-term, sustained effort that changes how our culture views our government.
Bonus prediction: By the way, whatever the outcome of the vote on Sunday, people with money will always get the health care they need and want.