Is the American public tired of fighting over the recent health care law, and ready to accept the law and move on? That's what the Obama administration would have us believe. On the eve of Supreme Court oral arguments over the law's constitutionality, senior White House adviser David Plouffe argued that the public had made its peace with the law. "Where the American people are right now is they don't want to go refight this battle again," he said on CNN. "You ask people, should we go back to square one? People don't want to do that."
Plouffe makes it sound as if the public is weary of the debate over ObamaCare. But multiple polls show that majorities of the public are unhappy with the law itself, and want to see it wiped from the books.
At this point, roughly half of the public disapproves of the law on average. In a Reason-Rupe poll released today, 50 percent of Americans reported an unfavorable view of the health care law. Just 32 percent reported a favorable view of the law. That tracks with most other polls. The multipoll aggregate at Pollster.com shows that 49.7 percent of the public disapproves of the law. Just 37 percent approve of it, meanwhile—and approval has been declining slowly for more than a year.
Public opinion about Obama's job performance on health care is similar: 49.7 percent disapprove, while just 41.6 percent approve. The gap in between those two figures has narrowed slightly since last fall, when disapproval ran as high as 54 percent. But overall, the numbers remain remarkably consistent: Roughly half of the country dislikes the law, and the president's handling of it, while somewhat fewer are in favor.
An even larger majority dislikes the most important provision being debated by the Supreme Court this week: the law's individual mandate to purchase health insurance. According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll released last week, 67 percent want to see that part of the law removed.
Defenders of the law might argue that some provisions of the law—like the ban on insurers discriminating based on preexisting conditions—remain popular. Is the public willing to make tradeoffs—accepting provisions they don't like in order to keep provisions they do? Not necessarily.
According to the Reason-Rupe poll, just 37 percent reported they would keep the insurance regulations if higher taxes were required. As it happens, roughly half of the law's initial 10 year cost was offset with increased revenues. Only 38 percent said they'd keep those insurance rules if the result was higher premiums. Since the law passed, premiums for employee health insurance have gone up even faster than in years previous.
And what about those who say they would prefer to keep the majority of the law, just without the mandate? The complexities of the severability issue being debated by the Supreme Court this week—basically a question about whether the majority of the law can stand if the mandate is thrown out—indicates that it may not be an option to keep the law but ditch only the mandate. The states opposing the law say the whole thing should be tossed. Even the administration, which has repeatedly insisted that the mandate is "essential" to the functioning of the law, is arguing that the preexisting condition exclusions have to go if the mandate goes.
When those who'd prefer to keep the law minus the mandate were asked were asked to decide between keeping the entire law, including the mandate, or erase the law completely, a majority reported that they'd prefer to do away with the entire thing, according to the ABC/Post poll.
Obviously none of this tells us whether or not the law is constitutional. But it does tell us that the administration has once again either misread the public mood regarding the law or has decided to misrepresent it. During the last major public battle over the law, prominent Democrats insisted that the law would become popular after it passed, and that it would prove an electoral boon to the president's party. Yet the law's popularity did not rebound. Indeed, a recent study found that the law's unpopularity runs so deep that it may have cost Democrats control of the House in the 2010 election.
But perhaps Plouffe is partly right. A majority of the public doesn't want to "refight this battle again." They want the law struck from the books—and its remaining defenders to move on.