You Will Forget This "Issue"

by Jonathan Bernstein

Greg Sargent asks:

Is reconciliation really going to be an issue in the 2010 elections? It seems awfully arcane, but Republicans are signaling they think it’s a political winner.

This is an easy one: while I suppose it's vaguely possible that Republicans could raise reconciliation as an issue in the fall, it's about as certain as anything could be that it won't affect any votes.  First of all, no one knows what reconciliation is; I mean, shockingly few people know what a filibuster is, really, so it's pretty clear that no one knows what reconciliation is.  Be sure to read this great anecdote from Chris Bowers (and a related one from Matt Yglesias).  But beyond that, no one cares.  Really.

Indeed, there's a good post and discussion thread right now over at the Monkey Cage asking a much more basic question: whether it matters in November whether health care reform passes at all.  What we know is that it's unlikely to have a major effect.  Most people vote based on their party identification.  Beyond that, the economy, the president's popularity, and voter's impressions of the candidates might affect Congressional vote.

Now, normally, most people don't know or pay a lot of attention to individual House and Senate votes, and those who do pay a lot of attention to politics are the very people most likely to already have strong partisan loyalties, so most of the time it's safe to assume that the risks are low in any particular vote.  However, this has been a very visible issue for over a year.  It's possible that a health care vote might be so high-visibility that it could directly have a (small) effect on some Congressional races.  It's also possible that success or failure on health care could affect general perceptions of Barack Obama, either directly or through elite opinions of the president as a success or failure filtering down to voters.  (I tend to believe the latter is true, and that therefore the best political choice for House and Senate Democrats is to pass the bill).

OK, I hope I was relatively clear there.  The bottom line is that it's pretty complicated to predict whether even a major thing like the success or failure of the president's chief legislative initiative will have a positive, negative, or no effect on November voting.  And if that's hard to determine, then it follows that more obscure things, such as the way the bill was passed, will be forgotten by almost everyone within days of the bill's passage.