A Switch in Time to Save Nine

Memo to House Dems: Just say ‘no’ to Obamacare.

“The Democratic Party is lashed to health reform—even in the face of polls showing tepid public support.” Thus Politico’s Carrie Brown paraphrases senior Democratic aides. As unappealing as that predicament may sound, Brown writes that those same aides say “it would be politically disastrous to flip-flop now.”

Not so. What would be politically disastrous for Democratic congressmen is to keep turning a deaf ear to the American people and to forge ahead with a highly unpopular bill. Among the mantras that might help Democrats emerge victorious in November, this one isn’t likely to top the list: The people don’t want it, so we’d better give it to them.

President Obama has echoed this line of thought. In a speech to House Democrats on January 14, he said,

[I know] some of you have gotten beaten up at home. … But I also know what happens once we get this … bill into law: The American people will suddenly learn that this bill does things they like and doesn’t do things people have been trying to say it does.

So we’re to believe that after months of extended debate and discussion, the American people would “suddenly” learn that this bill—which wouldn’t go into effect in any meaningful way until 2014—is really not so bad. At least the president doesn’t pitch such fanciful comments directly to the American people.

All wishful thinking aside, Americans know that the bill would raise spending, taxes, deficits, premiums, and overall health costs; would cut Medicare and cost jobs; and would inject the federal government into the historically and rightfully private relationship between patient and doctor. None of this would change simply because President Obama puts his signature on the bill.

In truth, the president and his aides are happy to sacrifice a few dozen congressional Democrats on the altar of Obamacare. They are focused on three immediate goals: passing a very unpopular bill before its window of opportunity closes, increasing the federal government’s power over our society, and giving President Obama something to talk about in his State of the Union address.

But individual House Democrats care a great deal about their own fate. And it’s not too late for them. Evidence from 1994 suggests that Democrats who opposed Hillarycare were largely spared by the voters. It was those who supported it who felt the voters’ wrath.

In Hillarycare’s wake in 1994, the more conservative Democrats did far better than run-of-the-mill Democrats—even though the opposite is normally true (see our “Real Lessons of 1994,” in the December 21, 2009, WEEKLY STANDARD). This time around, nothing will mark a Democratic member as one who should be spared more than his final vote on Obamacare. Contrary to the not-so-helpful advice of senior Democratic aides, many members could save their own seats with just one vote.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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