NEWS BLOG (WSAU) "The public cares about results. The public doesn't care about process." That's what President Obama said during last Thursday's health care summit. The context is whether health care will be passed via reconciliation in the Senate.
This is a case where the Barack Obama is wrong. His miscalculation may be fatal to what's left of his first term and his presidency.
There are no absolutes in politics. Generally when it's something the public wants, the process doesn't matter. When it's something the public doesn't want, the process goes under the microscope. And if the public thinks the process isn't above-board, opposition solidifies and becomes entrenched.
An example: The senate got President Bush's first-term tax cuts passed using reconciliation. Most people like tax cuts. The tax cut debate was primarily a debate among politicians. Some wanted those dollars to stay in Washington. Others wanted to send money back to the American people. Most people like tax cuts, and don't care how they get them. This is a case where process doesn't matter.
But health care is different. 78% of Americans already have coverage. Some people are reluctant about running up huge deficits for the 12% who don't. Some who have coverage are wondering if they'll be taxed on their Cadillac plans. Others are scared that their taxes will go up and their coverage will get worse. Enough people have enough questions that they prefer the imperfect status quo to comprehensive change. Against that backdrop, the process absolutely does matter. People might reluctantly accept policies they disagree with if the process is legitimate. But if people see the negative consequences of health care, and are reminded that it happened with 51 votes instead of 60 in the Senate, the backlash will be tremendous.
And again, the White House strategy on health care escapes me. The latest word is that reconciliation won't happen for another 4-6 weeks. Translation: they don't have the votes in the house yet, and it will take about a month to round up the support that's needed. But time is working against this bill. As more time goes by, more people become skeptical. And as more backroom deals to get votes are made, public distaste for the process goes up.
Process does matter when the policy is unpopular. And politicians who push unpopular policies through nine months before an election tend to be unpopular at the ballot box.
Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau