In the wake of the election of a Republican senator from Massachusetts, which deprived Democrats of the needed 60 votes to pass their favored version of health care reform, the party seems poised to once again put its major goals in this arena aside.
The current Democratic plan before Congress would achieve a thorough overhaul of health care in the country, with some 30 million Americans covered, or about 95% of the population. The idea, however, has proven to be highly unpopular, a sentiment largely generated by vigorous lobbying and negative publicity from the insurance and pharmaceutical industries.
If the pending legislation is scrapped, Democrats might opt to fight for a minor degree of coverage for those Americans who currently have no insurance or go after new rules governing the insurance industry. Tax breaks for small businesses allowing them to provide better benefits are also an option.
President Obama will deliver his State of the Union address on Wednesday, January 28, and has indicated that he is not ready to give up on the current bill. He has not, however, indicated what strategy he thinks Democrats should use to achieve this feat in the face of their lost Senate margin.
A poll conducted by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News found that a third of Americans believe the current health plan would bring costs down, while two-thirds see it as a way to help those with pre-existing conditions gain coverage. In spite of such feelings, however, overall public support for the health care package has steadily declined.
Much of the disapproval stems from recession-generated fears over tax increases to pay for the measure and potential cuts in Medicare benefits, a suggestion which has alienated older Americans. Unless Democratic leaders on the hill can muster the support they need, unlikely given the entrenched opposition of the Republicans, the Obama administration is likely to see a repeat of President Bill Clinton’s 1993-1994 health care defeat.