The outcome of the 2010 midterms will be a referendum on the current health care reform legislation. The economy is showing signs of making a solid comeback, and so both the GOP and the Democrats are looking to make health care reform the issue of the 2010 elections. However, if the Democrats don’t actually start moving towards an offensive positioning in the coming year the consequences will be serious.
The Democrats control the House, the Senate and the White House for the first time in years. On the face of it you’d think that should be enough to push a more liberal and progressive agenda through, but sadly there is a price to be paid for being a party that doesn’t walk in lockstep in the way the GOP is expected. The new year will soon be upon us, and the Party of “No” is ready to reclaim Congress. In the midterm that followed Clinton’s presidential victory there was a Republican Revolution that had effects that lasted well into Bush’s second term. Could we be facing a rerun of 1994?
Before we can accurately speculate let’s examine what things were like at that time as opposed to the present. As Anthony Salvanto puts it:
There are important differences from 1993-94, probably in the Democrats’ favor this time, including:
• The Democrats majority is spread-out around the country: it doesn’t overly depend on a sole region, so it’s harder to [sic] for it to fall prey to a regional trend.
• There is, so far, no wide-scale wave of retirements of Democrats leaving behind “open” seats, which are always tougher to defend. There were a lot in 1994.
• There’s no recent redistricting of boundaries to throw wild-cards into the mix, and the gains that Democrats have since made among key groups of the electorate (such as independents and upper-income voters) haven’t yet been reversed at the ballot box.
But there are some historical trends that could suggest Democratic loses – though not necessarily a loss of the majority – in 2010:
• Democrats have a winning streak going, coming off especially two favorable years in ’06 and ’08 – and such streaks are historically is [sic] tough to sustain, especially for a sitting president’s party. In general, a president’s party historically loses seats (though not necessarily its majority) in mid-term elections.
• Democrats hold not just a majority but a large majority of seats — and such sizeable advantages are historically is [sic] hard to hold; things tend to swing back closer to parity.
• The Democrats have plenty of freshman (typically, the most vulnerable type of member) sitting in GOP-leaning districts.
Ultimately trends won’t mean nearly as much as the general mood of the country, or to put it another way, the President’s approval rating might just give us a hint about how the public is feeling regarding the overall mood in our nation. According to Alan Abramowitz on the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics website:
Under what might be considered a worst case scenario for Democrats, if President Obama’s approval rating sinks into the low 40s next year, which would produce a net approval rating of around -10, and Republicans take a 5 point lead on the generic ballot, the GOP would still be expected to gain only 4 seats in the Senate. However, such a scenario would put Republicans in position to come very close to regaining control of the House with an expected pickup of 41 seats. On the other hand, if the President’s approval rating rebounds into the mid 60s, producing a net approval rating of around +30, and Democrats have a 10 point lead on the generic ballot, the GOP would be expected to lose one seat in the Senate and gain only 15 seats in the House. Based on the latest results (as of August 24) for the President’s net approval rating in the Gallup Poll (+16 percent) and the Democratic lead or deficit on the generic ballot (+6 percent), the predictions would be a Republican pickup of 1 seat in the Senate and 23 seats in the House.
Previously it seemed the economy would be the primary focus in 2010, things indicate that we are bouncing back, but we’re not out of the woods yet. The common consensus is that the recession is “very likely” at its end; that much is a positive. Something to bear in mind is that Keynesian economics has worked every time it’s been applied. Deficit spending isn’t a huge worry just yet. About the time the Democrats start to focus on a get-out-the-vote strategy consumer confidence and jobless claims are likely to be much improved.
The weakness that Democrats have is the current unpopularity of the health care reform bill. The message has not been controlled, nor have the Democrats framed the debate. Indeed the teabaggers have been the problem everyone expected they would be. Measures were taken in anticipation of this, but they were not enough and have remained largely ineffective in the eyes of the general public while teabaggers have captured the attention of the mainstream media.
If the legislation had been passed before the August recess things might not have become the fiasco they are now. This has become the jumping-off point for the GOP’s efforts in the coming year.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has already started to offer a new talking point for the right wing by saying there were “special deals” in order to pass this legislation, and he also said that the legislation needs to be “repealed” despite not having been passed into law as yet. Knowing Gingrich’s inclination to use language as a means of recharacterizing issues it’s easy to see how this could become a meme if repeated often enough. In fact the echo chamber is already geared up to repeat this idea ad nauseam.
There are already comparisons of the House and Senate bills as well as explanations of the legislation. In order to prevent the momentum from shifting rightwards the positive aspects of H.R. 3590 and Manger’s Amendment must be emphasized. The DNC has already gone to noticeable lengths to cast a light of revelation upon the Republican lies, but it will take more than that to actually make a difference. The Democrats must clearly state what health care reform does do for America rather than what it doesn’t do.