Gary Andres summarizes the reasons why congressional leaders feel compelled to try to cram through a massive health-care bill the public hates:
Passing health care reform is a bit of a Holy Grail for Democrats. It is one of the most important debates and potential accomplishments for the party’s most ardent partisans — and has been for many years. Failure to enact this legislation would render a crippling blow to those most apt to volunteer, talk to their friends about politics, give money and vote in the upcoming midterm election. These base voters may not always guarantee the party’s victory, but without them defeat is assured.
Oh, and they’ll sell the dupes — the voters, that is, who don’t know what’s best for them — on it later, convincing them how wrong they were to oppose the heroic efforts of lawmakers. Or something like that.
This and complete cluelessness about what the public’s objections are to the bill and a pattern of ultra-liberal excess explain a lot. As Democratic consultant Dan Gerstein put it, “the Democrats have seemed to be operating in a hermetically sealed political vacuum, impervious to the public’s changing post-crash priorities and diminishing tolerance for big government solutions.” He thinks its political madness to plunge ahead:
Those hell-or-high-water Democrats are banking on the context to change again once they pass their bill. Their theory is that once the program benefits kick in, the political benefits will soon do the same. Public support will grow over time, the system will become as ingrained and untouchable as Medicare and Medicaid, and this year’s election liability will gradually become a campaign asset. It might be a plausible argument–if this were any other year, if health care were the only issue dragging down the Democrats’ credibility, if the anti-government Tea Party movement had not gotten such traction, and of course, if the bill ends up working reasonably well. …
The best course for Democrats would be to skip the all-or-nothing trap and pass a center-out bill that contains the 80% of insurance reforms on which both sides already agree. But that’s a moot point: The Democrats are going for broke (in more ways than one). The more salient question is when will the Democrats start connecting the dots–and recognize that the American people are not going to accept a government that is not willing to heed their doubts.
Now Pelosi-Reid-Obama are plainly not taking Gerstein’s advice, but that’s not what matters at this point. (Well, for many who will meekly accept their assignment to walk the plank for the greater good of Obama’s ego, I suppose it matters.) What really matters to the outcome is whether those one or two dozen House Democrats whose votes are still in play connect the dots and assess the arguments of their leadership in light of their own constituents.
Pelosi’s liberal donors may have been pining away for socialized medicine since the days of their nuclear-free-zone sit-ins at Berkeley, but that doesn’t mean a Michigan or Arkansas congressman’s constituents harbor the same dreams. Pelosi may think she can explain it all later, but those congressmen on the fence saw her explain things at the summit and likely had the same reaction as Gerstein — oh my. (“Led by Pelosi, they repeated their same unpersuasive arguments for universal coverage, recycled the same hollow CBO numbers as a crutch and too often resorted to the same partisan defenses in responding to what sounded like substantive Republican criticisms.”) Pelosi may worry about turning off Democratic activists, but a Democratic congressman from a district that voted for John McCain in 2008 knows it’s the independents and the Republicans he needs to mollify.
The motives and interests of the congressional leadership and their members have diverged sharply. Before Scott Brown’s election, the Obama-Reid-Pelosi troika was successful in getting members to disregard that divergence. Now it’s a lot harder to get Democratic House members to overlook the obvious: a vote for ObamaCare will cost them their seats. Pelosi will try, but her members have seen just how ineffective Obama is, both in convincing the public of the bill’s merits and in providing cover for Democratic candidates (e.g., Creigh Deeds, John Corzine, Martha Coakley). Now they need to decide whether it’s worth sacrificing their careers for the sake of an awful bill — which Republicans will spend the rest of the year (and years to come, if need be) trying to repeal.