Momentum is growing for passage of health care reform, and, because of their continued obstructionism, so is the threat to Republicans. In the past week, both the AP and Gallup have released surveys showing a significant decline in opposition to President Obama's health care plan, with Gallup showing the plan favored by a 51 to 41 percent majority. The Congressional Budget Office released its updated analysis of the Finance Committee bill showing it that it will expand coverage while reducing the deficit.
Perhaps most important, at least seven prominent outside-the-Beltway Republicans, including former Senate leaders Bob Dole and Bill Frist and Bush HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, have expressed the need for congressional Republicans to put partisan politics aside and work with President Obama and Democrats to pass major reform this year. These Republican "wise men" are echoing the sentiments of the nation as a whole. Recent public polls show Americans weary of both the status quo in health care and Republican obstructionism. Overwhelming majorities say Republicans lack ideas and put politics ahead of the nation's needs.
This extreme partisanship is contributing to the continued stagnant and unimpressive standing of the Republican brand and threatens to further isolate Republican leaders from the American political mainstream.
Country Wants Action on Health Care
In announcing his support for Obama's health care efforts, Dole said, "I want this to pass. I don't agree with everything Obama is presenting, but we've got to do something" (emphasis added). This latter sentiment is clearly shared by most Americans. The Kaiser Family Foundation recently found that 57 percent of Americans say "it is more important than ever to take on health care reform now" versus 39 percent who says "we cannot afford to take on health care right now."
Republicans Seen as Having No Ideas, Putting Politics Ahead of Solutions
Dole also blamed "partisanship," particularly among his fellow Republicans, for the slowing reform. "Sometimes people fight you just to fight you ... they don't want Obama to get it, so we've got to kill it ... Health care is one of those things."
His point was seconded by former Republican Congressman Mickey Edwards, "The goal isn't to cripple a presidency. The goal is to take care of people's problems getting health insurance." As the debate over health care has raged on, it has become clear to the American people that the Republicans are, in fact, out to "cripple a presidency" rather than work to solve the people's problems. Even opponents of reform want Republicans to compromise instead of blocking legislation:
• A Democracy Corps survey finds just 29 percent saying that Republicans have "new ideas for addressing the country's problems," a lower rating than when we last asked this question in 2005.
• Quinnipiac finds just 29 percent think that Republicans are "making a good faith effort to cooperate" with Obama on health care, versus 59 percent who say they are not.
• A CBS/New York Times survey finds that just 27 percent think Republican members of Congress are opposing Obama's plans because they think they are "bad for the country" while 64 percent say they are doing it for "political reasons."
• Pew finds that 62 percent of opponents of health care reform think that "policymakers who oppose the current proposals" should compromise with supporters while only 33 percent think they should try to block passage of legislation.
These sentiments are most vividly illustrated by the words of the participants of several focus groups that Democracy Corps conducted among independents and swing voters in Colorado, Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania over the last two months:
• "What I think of the Republican Party right now is the Party of "no." Everything, no, no, no. No health care, no this, no that, you know; they need help." - Non-college man, Cleveland, OH.
• "I don't think that the Republicans are ever going to want to ever pass any legislation for reform, because they don't want Democrats or Obama to get reelected. ... I don't think that Obama is ever going to get support from the Republicans. As much as he tries to give them, they're still going to vote no." - Independent woman after viewing Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress, Denver, CO.
• "It seems like they're trying to stand up against anything the Democrats want to pass just to be a little smart ass in Congress." - Non-college man, Tampa, FL.
Republican Brand Extremely Weak
As Bloomberg News put it in their write up of the latest Quinnipiac survey, "Months of Republican attacks on President Barack Obama's health-care proposals appear to have hurt the party." A slew of public polls conducted by Democracy Corps and other organizations show the Republican brand in tatters, both generally and on the issue of health care:
• That Quinnipiac survey finds that just 25 percent approve of the way Republicans in Congress are handling their job, while 64 percent disapprove.
• The latest Democracy Corps survey finds just 30 percent with a favorable opinion the GOP while 44 have an unfavorable opinion. That -14 point net approval rating is nearly twice as bad as it was on Election Day in 2008. Moreover, at net 17-point favorability gap between the two parties is down only slightly from Election Day 2008 and is still substantially larger than when Democrats secured their first of two successive wave victories on Election Day in 2006.
• A similar analysis of Pew data from Brendan Nylan at Pollster.com finds that "the Republicans are currently viewed more negatively than any minority party in the previous four midterms in terms of both net favorables and the difference in net favorables between parties."
• The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll finds that just 21 percent approve of the job Republicans are doing on health care while 65 percent disapprove.
To read the full report, please visit the Democracy Corps website.
Andrew Baumann specializes in U.S. political issues with a particular focus on Greenberg Quinlan Rosner's work with Democracy Corps - a non-profit organization that provides opinion research and strategic advice to progressive organizations.