John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


The Politics of Health Care

Posted on March 26, 2012
Democrats used to own the healthcare issue.

As Chris Matthews put it, voters used to see the Republicans as the daddy party (particularly strong on national defense issues) and the Democrats as the mommy party (particularly on healthcare and education).

ObamaCare has changed that equation.

A CBS News/New York Times poll showed that only 36 percent of the American people approve of the president’s healthcare law. A whopping 47 percent disapprove of the law, with 30 percent strongly disapproving.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll found even worse numbers for the president on the issue, with 52 percent opposing the law. Fully 67 percent believe that the Supreme Court should rule either the law or the individual mandate unconstitutional.

In contrast, the program created by Republicans in 2003 to modernize Medicare with a prescription drug benefit remains very popular with senior citizens and with most voters.

Vice President Biden traveled to Florida last week on the two-year anniversary of the birth of ObamaCare to talk to a group of senior citizens about the Paul Ryan budget and Medicare, making a valiant effort to change the subject from the administration’s own track-record on healthcare. But there is no sign that such tactics will work, as senior citizens remain highly displeased with the half-trillion in cuts to the Medicare program to pay for ObamaCare.

David Plouffe, President Obama’s top political adviser, went on television over the weekend to once again make the case for his boss’s healthcare plan and to attempt to throw Mitt Romney under the bus.

But calling Romney the godfather of ObamaCare is not going to help its real father in the next election. This law is a political liability for the president, and if the Supreme Court declares that it passes constitutional muster (and most analysts currently think it will), then it will remain a political liability for the president’s team.

The president’s law is unpopular because it amounts to healthcare rationing. That explains why senior citizens don’t like it very much, because they know instinctively that their healthcare will be rationed first.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is licking her chops, readying her attacks on the Ryan budget plan to reform Medicare. But my guess is that her campaign will fail, and it will fail because senior citizens don’t blame Paul Ryan for the Medicare cuts that came as a result of ObamaCare. They blame Obama.

Polls show that younger voters like the new changes to the healthcare law more than older voters, and why wouldn’t they? The law allows them to stay on their parents’ health insurance plan longer, and if there is anything we know about kids these days, it’s that they want to leech off their parents for as long as possible.

But it is doubtful that the kids will vote for Obama in the numbers they did in the last election, given the unemployment rate among younger Americans, their level of school debt and the overall prospects facing them.

The president has lost seniors and most likely won’t get the same bounce from the young. And that is what makes the so-called “war on women” campaign so important for the Obama White House.

It is unclear if they fell into or planned the “contraception” fight, but in either event, Senate Democrats and the Obama administration have put all of their firepower into trying to convince female voters that this healthcare fight has morphed into a fight over reproductive rights.

What is most interesting about this tactic is that the Democrats have largely given up on promoting the healthcare bill itself, which obviously has not garnered the positive reviews they had anticipated.

It is unclear if the “war on women” campaign will work, though. According to a New York Times poll, when women were asked the question, “Should health insurance plans for all employees have to cover the full cost of birth control for female employees, or should employers be able to opt out for moral or religious reasons?” they favored opting out by a 46-44 margin. The margin increased to 53-38 for “religiously affiliated employers, such as a hospital or university.”

What is clear is that healthcare is not the winning issue it once was for the Democrats, and that must be the cause of great concern in the Obama White House.

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