GOP downplays impact of Kennedy on healthcare vote

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“Current and justified” emotion about the loss of Sen. Edward Kennedy is unlikely to affect how Congress votes on President Obama’s healthcare reform plan, says influential Republican pollster Bill McInturff.

Speaking during a Monitor-sponsored breakfast with reporters on Thursday, Mr. McInturff said, “It is hard for me to believe that,... despite the current and justified emotion, the average Blue Dog Democrat in Kentucky or Idaho or other states is going to want to make a vote about his or her future based on the legacy” of Senator Kennedy.

McInturff, a partner in the Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies, said the more likely outcome is that “individual members will make those votes based on their own calculus for their own situation and not as a memorial to [Kennedy’s] long and distinguished career.”

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There has been some conjecture that the senator’s death might rally Democrats to the cause of healthcare reform, a life-long passion of Kennedy’s. Former Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean told The New York Times that “his death absolutely will stiffen the spine of the Democrats to get something this year for this extraordinary giant in Senate history.”

Obama plan vs. Clinton plan: same public response

Earlier this week, McInturff released polling data showing that registered voters feel about the same way toward Mr. Obama’s health reform plan as they did toward Bill and Hillary Clinton’s health reform efforts in 1994 which failed to pass. Currently, 25 percent of voters favor Obama’s plan, 37 percent oppose it, and 37 percent have no opinion, according to a survey by Public Opinion Strategies. The survey was conducted Aug. 11-13 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.

Part of the reason Obama has had a difficult time selling his plan is that “we have hit a tripwire where the people who have good private coverage don’t see a benefit to them," McInturff said. “You can not expand coverage if people believe they will lose their coverage as an option or their quality of care will be hurt. And fundamentally that has what has happened so far in this debate."

Obama could yet succeed in getting healthcare legislation through Congress, McInturff said, but only if he can convince the progressive wing of the Democratic Party to go along with a plan that does not include offering people the option of choosing a government-run insurance plan (the so-called public option).

Can Obama manage his liberal base?

"I don’t think Republicans are the determinant of what happens in healthcare. I think the liberals in Congress are, because I think ultimately a fairly major healthcare bill could pass, but probably not with the public option as currently constructed. And how the president manages that legislative process and how he manages that internal coalition thing” will be crucial, McInturff said.

There is little risk of long-term political harm for Republicans if healthcare reform fails to clear Congress, he said. “We don’t count. They are a huge majority with a powerful, well-liked president. We would have to be fairly inept to get the blame for healthcare collapsing."

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