By Bill Press
A funny thing happened on the way to repeal of President Obama's health care reform plan in the House: the vast majority of Americans decided they liked the new plan after all, and didn't want to see it repealed.
Pollsters said it was one of the most dramatic turnarounds in public opinion they'd ever recorded. In December 2009, after one year of debate over health care, a Quinnipiac University poll showed 53 percent of Americans opposed to Obama's plan, and only 36 percent in support. As late as August 2010, a majority of Americans still supported repeal of the entire package.
Emboldened by those findings, Republicans charged ahead with plans to make repeal of health care the first order of business in the 112th Congress, when suddenly the ground shifted under their feet. Americans had a change of heart. By January 2011, according to an Associated Press poll, only 25 percent of Americans -- and only 49 percent of Republicans -- supported repeal of the entire law.
Why the change? Because none of the opponents' dire predictions came true, for one. Congress passed the bill. President Obama signed it into law. It's been on the books for 10 months. And there are no "death panels," no kicking grandma down the laundry chute, no wave of small business shut-downs, no government takeover, no socialism. Given every chance for the worst to happen, in other words, it didn't.
At the same time, some elements of the plan have started to kick in. Already, insurance companies can no longer deny coverage to children because of a pre-existing condition. Already, small businesses are enjoying tax breaks for providing coverage to their employees.
Already, parents can keep kids on their own plan until they're 26. And already, millions of Americans who could never before afford health insurance have discovered that suddenly, with government help, they can. Result: the more Americans see how the new health plan helps them and their families, the more they like it.
And the more they learn about the realities of repeal, the less they trust it. From the Congressional Budget Office, we learned that -- rather than saving money, as Republicans claim -- repeal would add $230 billion to the deficit. Because, for example, it would mean, once again, the only option for the uninsured would be expensive emergency room care, which we taxpayers all pay for.
From the Department of Health and Human Services, we learned there are 50 to 129 million non-elderly Americans with pre-existing health conditions: anything from cancer to asthma to being underweight or overweight. Many of these people already have health insurance. But those who don't would once more be out of luck. Because the Republican plan of repealing health care reform and replacing it with nothing would put insurance companies, not doctors or patients, back in charge of all health care decisions.
Yet, despite the overwhelming arguments against it, Republicans stubbornly stuck with repeal of what they called the "Job-Killing Health Care Law Act." Which is itself a lie. With some 30 million Americans gaining access to health insurance, insurance companies, clinics, and hospitals will all have to hire more people. In fact, the health care industry's the fastest growing industry in America today. The new health care law is not killing jobs; it's creating them -- fast!
So why aren't people more outraged over the 245 to 189 vote to repeal health care reform? Because most people realize it's not going anywhere beyond the House. Even its supporters acknowledge that.
Republicans don't have the votes in the Senate. And even if they did, President Obama would never sign a bill wiping out his number one legislative achievement.
This entire exercise, in other words, was a total waste of time and money. Nothing but a cynical political exercise which even Speaker John Boehner admitted Republicans pushed in order to keep a promise made to tea partiers during the 2010 campaign. And that raises serious questions about what we can expect from this new Congress.
First impressions are important. And the first impression we now have from the Boehner-led Republican Congress is that they're more interested in playing political games than coming up with serious solutions to serious problems.
Republicans spent the last two years opposing anything President Obama was for. They now plan to spend the next two years dismantling anything he's accomplished. Is that really what the American people want?
(c) 2011 Tribune Media Services, Inc.