If Democrats don't pass health care reform, the GOP leads in generic ballots by 43%-38%. If Democrats do pass health care reform, GOP leads in generic ballots by 43%-40%.
The poll has generated a pretty vigorous response online.* One way to interpret these results is: It makes no difference, Democrats are hosed. Another way to interpret these poll results is: It makes no difference, Democrats are hosed -- so why not just pass health care reform anyway?
Megan took issue with the latter interpretation:
I am similarly underwhelmed by the notion that once we've passed the bill, it will somehow be easier to sell "what's in it." There is lots of information about what is in the House and Senate bills, but the public has clearly not consumed that information. Why are they going to magically become more wonkish after it passes?
I find it easier to make the counterargument--that in districts where the thing polls moderately well, it's easier to make up pleasant characteristics for a bill that never passed, and then complain that Republican obstructionism prevented us from realizing the dream. Whatever emerged from a Senate + reconciliation strategy will almost certainly be uglier than either the House or the Senate bills on their own.
I agree with Megan that I don't see this bill getting much more popular if it passes. We might see a little spike among moderates and liberals who are relieved to have salvaged something from the slog, but the president's signature is unlikely to transform the bill's marketability. Megan's conclusion is: Don't pass the damn bill. My conclusion would be: Pass the damn bill right away.
Americans have short memories, cable news has a hyperactive metabolism and news stories have the half-life of a mayfly. If you're going to pass the damn bill without confidence of its popularity, you need to pass it with time to create months of A1 news that has nothing to do with health care reform. If you're going to pass a bill that (a) has the potential to encourage some deep blue donors to donate money to Senate and House campaigns, (b) doesn't move national polls dramatically, and (c) isn't terribly popular to begin with, it makes sense to make health care reform a priority rather than a back-burner issue. By early summer the Obama team wants the news to be all about jobs for Main Street and fixes for Wall Street -- a wave of populism that carries into autumn when the state-by-state polls start to harden.
In other words, the Rahm Emanuel strategy of picking up health care reform later this year after the jobs and the bank regulations are passed strikes me as a great way to either alienate the base or remind voters about that trillion-dollar bill they don't understand (or know they hate) just as they're about to go to the polls. It just doesn't make sense to me.
*Truly I can't remember the last time so much was said about a poll that said so little, but here I go anyway....
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