Health Care Remains a Liability for Democrats. Thanks to Romney, It May Be a Liability for the GOP Too.


In recent weeks, a number of prominent Democratic politicians have said openly what should have been obvious all along: Passing the 2010 health care overhaul was not generally a winning political move for Democrats. 

Most will say only that President Obama should have let the party focus on the economy first before getting to health care. But it's clear enough that a number of folks with Ds after their names now recognize that the party's electoral fortunes have suffered as a result of the law.

Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank, for example, told New York magazine that Democrats "paid a terrible price" for passing ObamaCare. North Carolina Rep. Brad Miller told The Hill that "we would all have been better off — President Obama politically, Democrats in Congress politically, and the nation would have been better off — if we had dealt first with the financial system and the other related economic issues and then come back to healthcare." And Virginia Sen. Jim Webb said he expected that the law would prove to be the "biggest downside" for the party in this year's elections. 

Given the not-so-hot polling on the law, this should be fairly uncontroversial. Since the law's passage, opinion surveys have consistently shown more opposition than support. And when a team of political scientists recently sought to quantify the law's effect on the 2010 elections, they found that the law's negative impact might well have been so large that it cost Democrats control of the House

But not all of the party's supporters are convinced that the law will continue to be a drag at the polls. Last week, The Washington Post's Greg Sargent pointed to a piece by Ipsos polling director Clifford Young attempting to complicate the argument against the law. In a post titled "Despite ObamaCare's unpopularity, health care may still be winning issue for Dems," Sargent summarizes Young's piece: 

Young points to Ipsos numbers that find the individual provisions in the law still remain overwhelmingly popular. The upshot is that nine of the bill's major provisions — from the ban on discrimination against people with preexisting conditions, to the creation of insurance exchanges, to the extension of insurance to young adults up to the age of 26 — are supported by anywhere from 67 percent to 87 percent of Americans.

This is not a new phenomenon. In the months prior to the law's passage, pollsters found broad public support for several of the law's specific provisions, especially the preexisting condition regulations, as well as deep opposition to the mandate and the overall price tag. But they didn't find majority public support for the law. And they haven't since. There's no particular reason to believe that support for a few parts of ObamaCare will finally translate into an advantage for President Obama and the Democrats this November should the Supreme Court let it stand. 

Still, even if the Court upholds the law, ObamaCare might not be as much of a weakness for Democrats as it was in the midterm election. That's not because of anything Democrats did. Instead, it's because of Republicans—and one Republican in specific: Mitt Romney.

Sargent argues that Romney's insistence on repealing ObamaCare, including the popular parts, might make public support for some of its specific provisions more salient. But House Republicans successfully ran on a campaign to repeal the entire law in 2010. And Romney, who says he wants to take down the entire law, will be the candidate whose (current) position most closely matches the largest segment of the public

No, Romney's problem isn't that he says he wants to repeal ObamaCare. It's that he supported, and continues to support, something very much like it. Because Romney passed, bragged about, and continues to defend the 2006 Massachusetts health care overhaul that served as the mdoel for ObamaCare, the GOP nominee may have a difficult time taking full advantage of President Obama's weakness on the issue. Romney will have a difficult time hitting President Obama too hard on the specific details of the legislation (the mandate in particular) when the health care overhaul bearing Romney's name did essentially the same thing at the state level.