What’s Left: A First Step



“Everything there is to say about health care has been said and just about everyone has said it. So now is the time to make a decision.” In early March, after over a year of debate, President Obama boldly called for a vote on healthcare reform. Pundits cast their predictions: healthcare was dead, it couldn’t be done, Pelosi didn’t have the votes. Then, from the ashes, Democrats forged a tenuous coalition and passed the most significant piece of legislation in recent years.

A great sigh swept across the nation on Monday after the outcome of Sunday night’s House vote on health care reform. Whether it was a sigh of relief or despair largely depends on one’s political beliefs, but I suspect that beneath them all was a far more universal emotion: exhaustion. After a year of intense debate and speculation, the legislative action on health care reform is coming to a close. But with mid-term elections just around the corner, the debate is hardly over.

Republicans claim that Democrats forced a bill that was “overwhelmingly rejected” by the American people, but the poll numbers simply don’t support that claim. The most recent Gallup Poll showed that 48 percent were against and 45 percent were in favor – certainly not an overwhelming rejection, and one within the margin of polling error.

Even with misconceptions about what benefits are granted to whom, the bill seems to be equally loved and hated by Americans right now. Many Americans don’t think the bill will help them. An aggressive campaign could change those numbers in either direction, but I’d argue that the bill would grow in popularity once its more immediate benefits are highlighted and the ugly process that brought it to fruition fades in the minds of voters.

As November approaches, the passage of the health care bill leaves an interesting scenario for political meteorologists. If the bill’s popularity increases in the coming months, Republicans could be left scrambling to find the “overwhelming majority” of Americans who reject the bill and explaining just what was so dangerous about the bill. The bill could also help solidify anti-incumbent anger and hurt the Democrats, so it is an interesting gamble.

With the huge task of healthcare reform off the agenda, the Obama Administration and Democrats on the hill have the opportunity to focus on the economy. Americans still cite the economy and job creation as their biggest priorities. Democrats now have plenty of time to address these concerns and showcase the jobs bill that passed with relatively little fanfare.

With some room on their plates, Democrats have the next seven months to meet the demands of an angry population. Passing health care reform was critical in several key ways: in proving that Democrats can get something done, in passing critical legislation that will help millions, and in freeing up the agenda to allow Democrats to address the concerns of angry constituents before November.

Until then, Democrats and Republicans can take a break from the health care fight. Whether Democrats won the war or Republicans lost the battle, the nation could certainly use a break from ideological bipartisanship and would instead appreciate a period (however brief) of practical coherence that addresses the everyday needs of unemployed and debt-ridden Americans. Let’s get to work.