Friday, September 4, 2009

How Will Healthcare Reform Affect Dems Politically?


Healthcare reform is floundering right now, although Democrats are showing no signs of ending their efforts to change the system. I want to consider what will happen politically under various scenarios.

Scenario 1: The Democrats get everything through including a public option

This is looking to be the least likely scenario at the moment. But it would be good for President Obama. He would be able to run in 2012 with a signature achievement rivaling anything FDR or LBJ did. In the short term, there could be some harm to congressional Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections. Blue dog Democrats from conservative districts might have trouble defending a $1 trillion bill and a public option. But on net, I think this scenario would be good for Democrats.

Scenario 2: The Democrats get nothing through

This scenario is hazy. Bill Clinton had his healthcare plan torpedoed in 1994. The Republican revolution ensued. But Clinton also went on to win reelection in 1996. So it’s hard to extrapolate what will happen. Perhaps the Democrats will experience no losses. Conservative Democrats will not have an expensive bill to defend. Democrats from liberal districts will get reelected anyway. Memories are short, and Obama would have two years to recover his political standing. So if I were a Republican strategist, I wouldn’t assume that stopping healthcare reform will be good politically.

On the other hand, there is no doubt that Obama would look incompetent if healthcare reform fails. He has a large majority in the House and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Republican strategists would try to make Obama out to be the second coming of Jimmy Carter.

Scenario 3: Some kind of compromise. No public option.

This scenario is difficult to evaluate too. I have a feeling that a compromise would offer somewhat expanded coverage, individual mandates, and no real way to control costs. So taxes would rise, debt would go up, and young people would have to spend more of their money on insurance. Conservative Democrats would be hurt by the high costs and rising debt. Liberal Democrats would be fine, although their constituents would be unhappy not to see a public option. But Democrats would be able to say they got something through. In fact, in the short term, a reform that expands coverage and keeps the government out of the health insurance might prove relatively popular to centrists. People would feel like something was done for the uninsured while at the same time, they get to keep their plan. But by 2012, when people see the rising debt, and some voters chafe under mandates, the plan could be a liability. That could hurt President Obama in his reelection campaign.

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