Before the start of the hurricane season, the National Hurricane Center at NOAA issues predictions for how many storms and major hurricanes are expected that year. Political analysts often put forth such prognostications based upon trends in polling winds, the temperature of the electorate and the country’s economy, etc. Healthcare is the biggest storm brewing in US politics, and Charlie Cook and Ron Brownstein are both raising hurricane warning flags for the Democrats.
In the last two issues of the National Journal (9/5 & 9/12) they directly and indirectly discuss the political implications of health reform legislation for Democrats in the 2010 and 2012 elections. Clearly the state of the economy will be a major determinant for voters’ in those elections, but it is also very possible that the content (or failure) of a health reform law will also influence the state of the economy over the next 1-3 years, since – as we’ve heard many times – healthcare is >16% of the GDP and healthcare costs are are constraining economic growth.
From a purely political perspective, it seems that the public plan option is the major hot potato-neutron bomb being tossed around. Including it in health reform legislation may result in a political communications battle royal, with Democrats seeking to explain to voters how a public plan will reduce costs and improve the economy, and Republicans telling voters that it is a dramatic expansion of government into the private sector on top of the bank bailouts and taking a majority ownership in General Motors – formerly the largest company in the world.
Even without a circumscribed public plan option – or without any legislation being passed at all – the Democratic party’s making health reform such a high profile issue has virtually guaranteed that it will be a major election issue in 2010 and 2012. At least for next year’s election, the Democrats will be defending their actions, and depending upon the outcome from this year’s legislative efforts, Republicans will likely adopt their own strategy from Rham Emanuel’s philosophy “never let a crisis go to waste.” For Republican strategists that “crisis” may be their projections of the ill effects the new health reform law will have for the country and the voters, or it may be just the “crisis” in our healthcare system not having being addressed by Federal legislation. In either case, with expectations being set so high, there will be major fights about who did and didn’t do what and why, with the result being that Members of Congress from swing districts – particularly those without deep rooted home town appeal – may get swept up in the storm and deposited someplace else like poorly anchored boats in a hurricane.