05/13/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Why Caddell's Wrong -- Passing The Bill Will Help Democrats

There's a lot of buzz in health care circles about an editorial in today's Washington Post entitled "If Democrats ignore health-care polls, midterms will be costly." That could be dangerous: the author's conclusions are contradicted, not supported, by the available facts.

The editorial's written by Patrick Caddell, described as a "political commentator and former pollster," and Douglas E. Schoen. Caddell and Schoen play the "pollsters to the past two Democratic presidents" card prominently, but here's what they don't tell you: Schoen's been on a third-party kick since he wrote a paean to centrism called Declaring Independence: The Beginning of the End of the Two-Party System. And Caddell's a "commentator," all right: he's now a right-leaning Fox News regular. There's plenty of YouTube video of Caddell clucking tongues with Glenn Beck over Van Jones' "violent past," or whatever the right-wing outrage of the day happens to be.

Which would all be fine if their analysis of the data was informed and correct - but it's not. It's a skewed piece that reflects the worst of Washington's Villager wisdom. If Democrats listen to them - and many will be tempted - it will make a difficult situation even worse.

"The battle for public opinion has been lost," they write. Nothing could be further from the truth. When asked how much they know about the health reform proposal, 40% of respondents in a recent Ipsos/McClatchy poll said "not very much" and 17% said "nothing at all." 32% said they knew "a fair amount," which isn't a lot. When 57% of the public indicates little or no understanding of the bill and another 32% knows they don't fully grasp it, the battle isn't "lost." On the contrary - these numbers show that the battle has barely been fought.

That impression's supported by what Newsweek calls "The Polling Contradiction." In summarizing its own polling data, Newsweek observes: "The majority of Americans are opposed to President Obama's health-care reform plan--until they learn the details." 81% approve of the health insurance exchanges, for example, and 76% approve a rule that requires insurers to accept anyone who applies.

Caddell and Schoen engage in some extreme cherry-picking of the data. Of four polls used to support their conclusions, three are from Scott Rasmussen, whose findings are known to lean more pro-Republican and anti-Obama than others. Yet here's a credible Rasmussen finding Caddell and Schoen somehow manage to overlook: People who oppose health reform overwhelmingly describe themselves as "Strongly Opposed."

How can any clear-headed analysis lead to the conclusion that a weaker bill will be more popular, given that its opponents feel "strongly" about it? Watering down a few of its provisions isn't going to win them over.

It's true that, as Newsweek observes, "Not all Democrat positions received such high marks. Imposing a fine on individuals who do not buy health insurance was the least popular provision ... (and) fifty-five percent opposed the so-called Cadillac tax on the most expensive health-insurance plans." But the "Cadillac tax" has been loosened and deferred for five years - during which a lot can happen politically. And as for the individual mandate, it's not a popular provision, but it's not going to be changed now.

Of the many polls that show more people opposed to reform than supporting it, it appears that only the McClatchy/Ipsos survey (as noted by Barry Sussman) thought to ask why. After finding that 47% of respondents opposed the bill and only 41% supported it - findings that are fairly consistent with other polls - they asked the reason for their opposition. 37% of those who oppose this bill said they "favor health reform overall but don't think the current proposals go far enough." That means that nearly 59% of the people polled support comprehensive health reform, which directly contradicts Caddell and Schoen's statement that "comprehensive health care has been lost." Actually, comprehensive health care has won. The challenge facing Democrats is to convince people between now and Election Day that they've delivered the comprehensive reform these voters want.

What's comprehensive about this bill? A massive reduction in the overall number of uninsured Americans. Subsidies to provide millions with health care coverage. An end to abusive insurance practices like cancelling coverage once a person gets sick. No more denials for people with pre-existing conditions. A well-designed insurance exchange that will subject insurance premiums to an unprecedented level of public scrutiny. A start on cost controls. A requirement that the exchange offer the same coverage provided to members of Congress (which serves as a brake on future benefit cuts).That's why, after a long year of struggle to improve the bill's flaws, I now support it. I can't turn my back on the uninsured in favor of an idealized bill that might be passed in some bright future ... especially if the likely outcome of failure this year is a Congress that's less likely to pass any reform at all.

Could the bill be improved? Of course, and if history is an example (see Medicare) it will be -- but not if a conservative majority is returned to both houses of Congress. Inaction makes that outcome more likely. Republicans have promised to run on repealing of any bill the Democrats pass. That's not a platform - it's nihilism.

Progressives have an immediate challenge and a slightly-longer term task. The immediate challenge is to pass a bill that improves our fractured health system. The longer-term task is to spend the run-up to November explaining what's been accomplished, and to ensure the electoral victories we need if the future is to be one of continued progress - rather than inaction from the "Party of No." We need a future of reform, not repeal.

When it comes to health reform, Caddell and Schoen have it backwards. Comprehensive health care is the best option, both as politics and as policy. Ignore the naysayers and pass the bill.


Richard (RJ) Eskow, a consultant and writer, is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America's Future. This post was produced as part of the Curbing Wall Street project. Richard blogs at:

No Middle Class Health Tax
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Website: Eskow and Associates