The new Washington Post-ABCNews poll shows that President Obama’s approval ratings are returning to the earth’s atmosphere. Put differently, the honeymoon is almost over. And, because the recession Obama inherited is still not over even though the honeymoon is, views on the President’s performance are returning to more typical partisan ratings. Democrats are still wild about the guy and Republicans are no longer giving him the benefit of the doubt. Those all-important Independent voters are returning to type: some lean left and others right.
This development should not worry the President overmuch but many members in Congress are understandably worried. They face re-election in 2010, not 2012, and the prospect of running with the recession still on is daunting. But, instead of running away from the President on issues like health care, they need to rally round. A political success on an important issue like health care, upon which all previous administrations have seen their reforms shipwrecked, is precisely the kind of historic change that voters have come to believe Congress is incapable of achieving. It is also the kind of historic change voters embraced last year.
Health Care reform will also take some time to implement. To listen to the Republican obstructionists, you would think that the sky will fall the second the President signs reform legislation. Bureaucrats will invade your home and tell you which doctor you can see, what procedures you can have, and take your money too. Of course, none of that will happen. So, if the Congress passes a bill this year, and the sky does not fall, Democrats are well-placed to charge their opponents with alarmism.
The taxes for health care reform will start immediately, but so long as Obama does not go back on his pledge not to raise taxes on those making less than $250,000 a year, and gets a bit more populist about income distribution, he can ride out that storm too. Some people, including some readers, seem to think that making more than $250,000 does not make you rich. They should try living on a writer’s salary. And, with a writer’s health care premiums. It is strange to me that the administration has not highlighted the plight of the self-employed in obtaining health care. Millions of Americans are self-employed and the argument will off-set the GOP talking points about small businesses being hurt by the health care reforms.
Most importantly, the President must find his moral voice on the issue. He can borrow easily and heavily from the calls to social justice – and the explicit approval given to wealth distribution on behalf of social justice – found in Pope Benedict’s new encyclical. After all, the Pope gave him a copy of it to read. Let the President quote it! The need for health care reform is not just to provide health coverage to those who currently lack it, although that is an instance of justice. It is to bind the nation together, to say that we must be our brother’s keeper if we are to thrive as a nation, that we as a nation can no longer walk past the uninsured as if they were the man who fell in among robbers on the road to Jericho and was helped only by the Samaritan. After 30 years of laissez-faire economics, it is time to bring humane and moral guidance to the economy.
Health care reform, provided it does not overturn to Hyde Amendment’s ban on federal funds being used for abortion, is exactly the kind of policy Pope Benedict called for in his encyclical. If the President and the Democrats in Congress want to bolster their ratings with moderate swing voters, the moral case for health care reform is the most compelling. And, if they can achieve what previous Congresses and Presidents could not, they will be running with history at their backs in 2010, not with sagging poll numbers.