It’s no secret that Harry Reid is in trouble in Nevada. The Senate Majority Leader’s approval ratings in his home state of Nevada is lower than Rush Limbaugh’s at a Move-on convention. been in the dumps. A poll conducted two week ago showed Reid with an anemic 38 percent approval rating, down more than 15 points since he won re-election back in 2004. But Reid’s falling popularity with Nevada voters isn’t the only thing that has Dems worried. The last two Mason Dixon polls in the state have found Reid losing against two potential GOP challengers: businessman Danny Tarkanian, who beat Reid 49 percent to 43 percent in a projected match-up; and Nevada GOP chairwoman Sue Lowden, who edged out Reid 49 percent to 39 percent. Making the numbers look even worse is that until recently the GOP in Nevada was in disarray. Reid’s numbers are still bad even though Republicans haven’t had their act together, so what does that say about his vulnerability?
The polls show that Mr. Reid is facing Nevada polls that suggest he’s lost most voters outside his liberal base. More threatening is the fact that his base too, was slipping, with Moveon.org making him a punching bag for not hopping on the Public Option train. Now with this week’s announcement, Reid is once again the hero of the left, and can sure up his base:
By KIMBERLEY A. STRASSEL
You couldn’t swing a cat this week without hitting a discussion of the public option. Somewhere, in some Capitol office, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is grinning.
Two weeks ago, the subject of a government-run insurance plan was a sore point with the Nevadan. He didn’t have the votes for it, his base was bitter, and he didn’t want to talk about it. This week, a transformed Mr. Reid devoted an entire news conference to it. Americans support the public option! His caucus supports a public option! He supports a public option! The public option is in! No problem!
In the real world, this kind of behavioral shift lands you in a psych ward. In Washington, the press just marked it down to forces bigger than Harry. The majority leader had been pushed into a public option by his liberal members, we were told. Chuck Schumer was scarier than Ben Nelson. The Huffington Post was even scarier than Chuck Schumer. Poor Mr. Reid, clucked observers, had been backed into a corner.
Maybe. Then again, maybe he is majority leader for a reason. Maybe Mr. Reid didn’t just wander out of the Nevada desert. Maybe he has a plan. Maybe, just maybe, he sees a big upside in turning the public option into the centerpiece of the health-care debate. After all, what does he have to lose?
Up for re-election next year, Mr. Reid is facing Nevada polls that suggest he’s lost most voters outside his base. His base too, was slipping, with Moveon.org making him a punching bag for not embracing the public option. With this week’s announcement, he is once again the hero of the left, and has that baboon off his back.
Who knows? It might even work. Mr. Reid included the fig leaf of an “opt-out” for states that don’t want the public option. It’s a ruse, but it might provide cover for votes. If not, he’s got room to maneuver. There’s the “opt-in” alternative, which even some Republicans claim to like. There’s the fall-back “trigger,” which re-earns him Olympia Snowe.
And if it doesn’t fly, well, is that so bad? Mr. Reid can still say he gave it the varsity try. He’ll get it to the floor and let those swing-state Democrats amend the public option away. Not his fault! What he also knows, even if the press doesn’t, is that for all the big talk of his liberal members, they are the more likely to give way. Even without a public option, this bill is a big step toward a single-payer system. And it isn’t as if any of them risk losing their seats by voting “only” for a $1 trillion health expansion.
Better yet, by turning the public option into the big, bad bogeyman, he makes it more likely he’ll snag those swing-state votes in the end. Nebraska’s Mr. Nelson, Arkansas’s Blanche Lincoln, Indiana’s Evan Bayh—they can all claim victory for stripping the bill of a national insurance plan, then feel comfortable voting for all the tax hikes and Medicare cuts that remain.
Speaking of tax hikes, premium jumps and Medicare cuts, notice how nobody is today talking about them? Mr. Reid surely has. The public option might be controversial in D.C., but the majority leader knows most of the country doesn’t understand it, or assumes it doesn’t apply to them. Most Americans already have health care that they like, and polls show their real fear is that this experiment will leave them paying more for less. This, not the public option, is ObamaCare’s exposed jugular.
The insurers get this, which is why (as they now try to bottle the genie they helped loose) they are issuing reports on how “reform” will double or triple premium prices. It is why America’s Health Insurance Plans, the lobby group, has run ads in swing states warning about huge cuts to Medicare Advantage. Some of the grass roots get it, too, which is why Americans for Tax Reform is now live on TV in Nebraska noting Sen. Nelson has signed its taxpayer pledge and that he’d violate it by voting for the bill’s nearly $500 billion in tax increases.
If Mr. Reid had pulled the plug on the public option, these highly unpopular policy issues would be front and center. As it is, the public-option sideshow is sucking up all the air, and will continue to. It even overshadowed liberal divisions, such as union pushback on Cadillac-plans taxes. Maybe, just maybe, Mr. Reid likes it that way.
Granted, this is the cynic’s view of Democrats’ health-care strategy. Mr. Reid did, after all, goof last week, failing to round up the votes to pass his party’s proposed “fix” to Medicare reimbursement rates. Maybe he doesn’t know which way is up. Maybe he is taking a flier.
Then again, anyone who has watched this debate has earned the right to cynicism. Democrats are determined to get a health bill, and Mr. Reid is no rube. His opponents—those trying to save the country from this wreck of a bill—would be wise not to forget it.