ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The evidence is clear: Health reform was a serious liability on the campaign trail for Democrats who supported passage of the massive overhaul law.
President Obama had promised Democrats who were nervous about voting for the unpopular bill last March that he had their backs: If they voted for his signature legislation, he said he would work relentlessly to overcome public opposition and convince the American people the $1 trillion law was good for them and for the country.
It didn't work. Despite the sweeteners added to the bill to provide early appeal — such as coverage for pre-existing conditions, allowing 26-year-old "children" to stay on their parents' health insurance and free preventive care — the American people weren't convinced.
They know that the law's $500 billion in new taxes will be passed on to consumers in higher health costs and insurance premiums.
Business owners are aghast at the avalanche of mandates and new costs, stifling job creation. Seniors know you can't cut $500 billion out of Medicare and make their coverage more secure. And states know that the mandatory expansion of Medicaid will explode their budgets.
Anger was up close and personal with incumbent Democrats, especially those in the most competitive congressional districts.
Democratic congressmen who switched from voting "No" to "Yes" on the health reform legislation faced the biggest trouble on the campaign trail.
Pollsters Bill McInturff and Peter Hart found in a pre-election survey that health care was indeed a huge issue with voters. And they found that in nearly 100 of the most competitive House districts, opposition was most intense: 55 percent of voters oppose the law and only 38 percent support it.
And those who strongly oppose the health care legislation outnumber those who strongly favor it by two to one. Important, only 15 percent said they want the law to go into effect unchanged.
A second poll found that the issue mentioned most in motivating votes against Democrats was health care, mentioned more often than President Obama, Nancy Pelosi or liberal. Independents opposed the law by a two-to-one margin, tipping the scale against Democrats in many competitive districts.
West Virginia's Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin withdrew his endorsement of the legislation in his attempt to rescue his Senate campaign, saying, "Reaching as far as they did in the — in the weeds of the bill that we didn't know about, no one else knew about until it came out — knowing that, I would not have supported that or voted for that at that time."
The few Democrats who talked about health reform on the campaign trail were defensively asking voters to give them another chance so they can fix it and get it right this time. It would be something of an understatement to say that most voters were disinclined to do that.
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Nearly half of the nearly 25 new governors sworn in next January campaigned against the legislation, and most have no intention of implementing a law that they and a majority of their constituents oppose.
Opposition will only grow as the real impact of the law on our health sector becomes more and more apparent. And if it's a problem for candidates in 2010, when most people still don't know everything that is in the law, it will become even more of a liability in 2012 when the mandates, costs and regulations will become even more apparent.
Grace-Marie Turner is president and founder of the Galen Institute, which advocates free-market ideas in health policy. E-mail: GraceMarie@galen.org.