The GOP’s health political calculation

She said the Baucus bill, while not perfect nor guaranteeing her vote on the final package, was based on market principles and not the “government option.” Snowe added, “More small businesses will have access to this immediately, increasing competition. We don’t have to go outside the system to finance this.”

The price tag at $829 billion over the next decade will actually help reduce the $1.4 trillion budget deficit by $81 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

While America faces real problems on many fronts, Congressional Republicans made a political calculation early in the year: There would be virtually no support for any of Obama’s initiatives. The calculation was made in an effort to position the party to regain power in the 2010 mid-term elections.

The strategy is questionable. A Quinnipiac Poll released on Oct. 7 revealed an approve/disapprove rating for Congressional Republicans at 25/64 percent, with 42 percent of Republicans disapproving. Only 29 percent think Republicans on Capitol Hill are acting in good faith; voters trust President Obama more than Republicans, 47/31 percent, to handle health care; voters 53/25 percent have an unfavorable opinion of the Republican Party.

On Congress as a whole, the Real Clear Politics average is a 25 percent approval rating and 66.2 percent disapproval. Gallup put that number at 21/72 percent; CBS News had it at 22/65 percent. On the generic ballot question, the Real Clear Politics average is 43.7 percent for the Democrats and 39.3 percent for Republicans, though CBS News has the spread at 46 percent for the Democrats and 33 percent for Republicans.

I had hoped a savvy Republican Party would have designed an alternative plan. With three and a half years before the next presidential election, the party could have enlisted their top thinkers – former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and key Congressional Republicans like our own Mike Pence – to then hit the talk shows and the road to stump for the Republican alternative. Romney actually was one public official who came up with a universal insurance plan, though it is a work in progress.

If the GOP alternative had picked up support in the polls, President Obama might have called them into the Oval Office. Instead, it’s the party of no; defenders of the insurance companies. A June Gallup poll showed only 35 percent of Americans had confidence in them, just above Republicans at 34 percent. That won’t win many elections.

After the Senate Finance Committee vote on Tuesday, Republicans like Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley pretty much cut themselves out of any further negotiations.

As for President Obama, there is disappointment with him, too. I covered probably 20 Obama campaign events in Indiana in 2008 and I heard him say over and over how he would reach out to Republicans and that they would have seats at the table. On Election Night at Chicago’s Grant Park, Obama said, “I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And above all, I will ask you to join in the work of remaking this nation.”

To listen to Hoosier Republicans, the door to the Oval Office has been slammed shut. When I asked Sen. Lugar last summer what kind of dialogue he’s had with President Obama, he said none.

I’ve spent a lot of time with Republicans running for Congress over the last several weeks. To a citizen, they will tell you that the status quo is unacceptable. When it comes to the political consequences, they smile and indicate they expect a bountiful political harvest. When I run the “Republican Alternative” scenario I just described, they nod in agreement and wish it had happened.

Here’s what I think is going to happen. There won’t be a public option, because the President will lose Snowe and maybe Senate moderates like Evan Bayh. The public option is the element most likely to fire up even more vividly the Tea Party movement, which right now is lashing out at all things incumbent and has the potential to grow in the vacuum of failure.

Democrats, meanwhile, are likely to talk about a plan that removes pre-existing conditions, capping what a family would have to pay out in a health catastrophe. A plan that would reduce the deficit, include up to 25 to 30 million people, and help small businesses cap their skyrocketing health care costs.

That will make an interesting contrast on the 2010 campaign trail.

(The columnist publishes at www.howeypolitics.com)

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