Sunday, November 8, 2009

Health Care Reform Clears the House, Obama Polling Update

Health Care Reform Squeaks Through the House

This evening, after some testy debate and late-stage deal-cutting between Speaker Nancy Pelosi and moderate anti-abortion Democrats, the House of Representatives passed the most sweeping make over of the United States health insurance industry since Medicare was enacted in the 1960s.

The bill passed by nearly the closest of margins, 220-215, with a lone Republican (Rep. Cao of Louisiana) crossing the line to vote for the bill and 39 Democcrats, largely members of the Blue Dog coalition, defecting to the GOP side. Every member cast a vote in this high-profile vote, including the two winners of special elections on Tuesday, meaning that had Democrats lost those two races, the vote would have been by the slimmest possible margin of 218-217.

The breakthrough that paved the way for a successful vote in the House was the deal Pelosi cut with the pro-lifers to allow a vote on an amendment to explicitly prohibit abortion funding except in cases of rape, incest or life-threatening complications in the new public options or public exchanges. The pro-life Dems teamed up with nearly the entire Republican caucus to successfully pass the amendment by a wide margin. The only other amendment to be offered was the GOP substitute, a much less ambitious substitute that dealt with tort reform and allowed interstate competition for health insurance, but did not even go so far as to ban dropping or excluding coverage for a pre-existing condition. The amendment failed on what basically amounted to a party-line vote.

The bill is far more liberal than anything that is likely to survive the Senate. The bill contains an explicit public option with no trigger and no opt out. It is either just under or just over $1 trillion over 10 years (depending on whose math you believe), around $100 billion larger than either Harry Reid's bill in the Senate or the size requested by the President. It contains a strong employer mandate, unlike the Senate bill and has larger tax provisions on high-income individuals and stiffer penalties for individuals failing to buy coverage.

To a certain extent, it feels like the House leadership took unnecessary risks with such a liberal bill. The bill as passed has zero chance in the Senate, where Harry Reid is struggling to cobble together a 60-vote coalition for a FAR more conservative bill. But at the end of the day, Pelosi and Hoyer got it done, so I can't really criticize their strategy. They managed to appease liberals, who will now be more inclined to vote for a more conservative conference report, having had their say on a bill more to their liking.

The House has now passed all of the President's priorities: the stimulus, cap and trade and universal health care. It has also long since passed versions of all of the appropriations bills for Fiscal 2010.

The bottleneck in Washington is clearly the Senate. It is often referred to as "the world's greatest deliberative body". Perhaps it would be apt to rebrand it "the world's MOST deliberative body". Quantity doesn't imply quality. Time for some up or down votes, boys and girls.

Presidential Approval -- Obama Sinks Another Couple of Points

After a couple of months of relative stability, President Obama's poll numbers have taken a step-change down again, into the +8 to 9% approve minus disapprove band. He continues to flirt every closer to falling below his vote margin last November, but he hasn't crossed it yet, not even for a day. The last 10 days have all been between +8.0% and +8.8%.

The President's monthly numbers reflect the drop-off, which happened just before the end of October. After slightly increasing in September and dropping 1.1% in October, he is on pace to lose 2.9% in November.

Whether this is the start of another decline, a two-point drop-off that has already happened and restabilized, or just a bump in the road remains to be seen.

What is clear to me having looked at over 9 months worth of data, however, is that the President has yet to have a sustained rally -- there are no two or three week periods since he took office where he made upward progress. He's going to need a few of these sooner rather than later to avoid slipping below his November numbers or worse yet, into the negative.

New Site Look and Feel

I've reformatted the site. Let me know if you like the new look. I was thinking of doing this after every election to keep the look current and relevant, but if the majority of my reader's like the old look better, I will restore it.

Next up -- seems like a good time to preview 2010 as well as take a look at the legislative calendar over the next year and assess how much time is really available to make big reforms.

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