Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Policies, Politics and Power in 2012

A new Rasmussen poll shows that 62% of voters favor repeal of the health care reform law.  51% strongly favor repeal.  Only 33% of voters oppose repeal.  If this was an election it would be called a landslide.  To put that in perspective, there has been only one President in our history (since popular vote totals were first tabulated in 1824) that received more than 61% of the vote.  Lyndon Johnson in 1964 with 61.05%   Recall that Barack Obama only had 52.9% of the popular vote in 2008.  Ronald Reagan only got 58.8% in 1984.

Underlying the opposition seems to be concerns about three main issues-61% believe the law will cause health care costs to go up, 54% think the law will be bad for the country and 59% believe the plan will increase the federal deficit.

My view is that the 2012 election will be, among other things, a referendum on the health care reform law.  President Obama and the Democrats will defend the law.  Republicans will continue to oppose the law. Most major elements of the law do not become effective until 2014.  Therefore, the voters will most likely decide the  fate of the law regardless of how the Supreme Court might ultimately rule on its constitutionality.  That being said, a Supreme Court decision before the 2012 election will have major influence.  Even a limited ruling against the law by the Court could spell the complete demise of support for the law with the voters.  If the Court upholds the law that also could provide legitimacy to Obamacare that could provide more support for the law.

The other big factor that will affect the "referendum" will be the Republican Presidential Primary season.  While the House Republicans have been able to successfully pursue an agenda focused only on repeal, the Republicans will eventually need to develop an alternative vision of reform that addresses the concerns above.  This burden will most particularly fall on the Republican Presidential candidates where voters are looking for vision, ideas and problem solving skills.  They don't want to hear so much of what you are against but what you are going to do.  Voters are not against reform.  They know something needs to be done to heal health care.  They just don't like the prescription the Democrats have written.

Election do have consequences.  This is most particularly true when the policy options are clearly laid out and the voters understand the choices.  In 1980, Ronald Reagan articulated a vision that was vastly different than Jimmy Carter.  When he won, despite large Democratic majorities in Congress, he was able to move his agenda on tax cuts and a stronger national defense.

Barack Obama did not run on such a defined platform.  In fact, he won the Democratic primary by arguing against implementing an individual health insurance mandate and what he sold was a much more benign health care reform proposal than Hillary Clinton was known to favor.   Voters seem to view it as a classic bait and switch.

Politics is about power.  True power in our system only comes from the people's support.  If you have it, you can do anything.  If you don't have it, you can't do anything for very long.  However, you can't accrue the power unless you put your policy proposals out there in clear and uncertain terms and let the voters decide.  You can't speak in code.  Scott Walker in Wisconsin laid out a pretty clear agenda but if he had been even more specific about the need to rein in the public sector unions he would have a much stronger hand right now.

The 2012 election provides the opportunity for Republicans to develop the policies to accrue that power if they want to end Obamacare.  If they do this and win, Obamacare will never survive until 2014.  The same goes for all of the other big issues facing the country.  I would like to think it can be done differently but we are unlikely to get the entitlement and federal spending reform we need until we get a President and a majority of Congress that runs and is elected to clean up the mess.

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