Democratic pollsters warning Democrats

Pollster Mark Penn warns Democrats not to pass the partisan Health Care bill.

. . . Reconciliation has been used before to pass major legislation. Proponents of this approach are fond of pointing to the passage of welfare reform, COBRA, and Bush's '01 and '03 tax cuts as evidence that the Democrats are fully inside the lines. For the administration, the most crucial difference between those bills and this is not their urgency, partisan nature, or even particularly their impact on the deficit; for Obama and his team, the most critical variant is that those bills were popular with the public. In 1996, 68% of Americans favored welfare reform. In 2000, before Bush's $1.3 trillion tax cut was introduced (by the notably bipartisan duo of Senators Phil Gramm and Zell Miller,) 63% of Americans thought they were paying too much income tax; by the spring of 2001, after a month of legislative wrangling, 56% favored Bush's proposed cuts. In 2003, with the Iraq war railing in the background and a post-9/11 economy flailing at home, 52% supported the second round of cuts. Not a huge margin, perhaps, but still a majority.

A February CNN poll puts voter support for the current bill (or a similar variant thereof) at just 25%. An equal percentage thinks Congress should forget health care reform altogether, while 48% think they should start work on an entirely new bill. Of more concern to any Democrat with an eye on reelection, Independents remain unmoved by the arguments in reform's favor, with only 18% supporting it and 52% calling for an entirely new bill.

I went back to look at some of the big Democratic fights of the past -- Medicare and Civil Rights -- both of which had long, multi-year histories and were eventually fostered amid the kind of bare-knuckle wrangling we're seeing today. The AMA opposed Medicare but a Gallup poll from January of '65 shows it had 63% support when passed. And while most opposed Civil Rights legislation when Kennedy proposed it, polling from the period shows 60% of the public favored the legislation once Johnson got it passed.

In every one of these contentious national debates, public support was solidified as a pre-condition to final passage. There simply is no shortcut or parliamentary maneuver around that process. The public is uncomfortable with the current bill and this is likely to be a Dirty Harry moment for the Republican party as they dare Democrats to "make their day." . . .

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