It was at 10:37 on Sunday night that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced the big health care bill had passed. (Boy, is she going to be surprised when she finds out what’s in it.) As the Speaker banged the gavel to close the proceedings, a cheer went up, and Democrats could be seen on C-Span awkwardly hi-fiving each other.
Yet the Democrats within the walls of the House chambers on March 21st may be the only ones celebrating. In living rooms all over America, state and local Democratic lawmakers likely swallowed hard when the final vote finished. That sound you heard at 10:37 wasn’t Pelosi banging the gavel – it was the sound of Tom Barrett, Jim Sullivan, Pat Kreitlow, and Kathleen Vinehout dropping a couple of Filet-o-Fish in their shorts.
Americans are busy people. They’re busy raising their families. They’re busy working. They hunt, they fish, and they read books. (Apparently the only thing none of them do is watch The Marriage Ref.) In the time they allot for paying attention to politics, they really can only pay attention to the large national debates of the time. Few of them can name their governor. Fewer still can name their state representatives and senators. As a result, state Democrats may pay dearly at the polls for what their federal masters hath wrought.
We’ve seen it before, and only a couple years ago. In 2006, Wisconsinites were fed up with the war in Iraq – and Republicans at the state level paid a heavy price (despite 80% of Wisconsin lawmakers being unable to find “the Iraq” on a map.) The lengthy and unpopular war sent people flooding to the polls to vote against Republicans, costing the GOP four state senate seats and dropping them into an 18-15 minority. The Assembly, which once had an almost insurmountable GOP majority, lost in the neighborhood of 10 seats in 2006 – holding on to a slim majority that they eventually relinquished two years later.
Our polling at WPRI shows that there’s still plenty of time for the GOP to screw their Wisconsin legislative races up – but it appears that despite not taking a single vote on ObamaCare, Democrats in swing districts may get swept up in the anti-health care tidal wave. In this respect, ObamaCare will be like the Democrats’ Iraq – a historic overreach that angers the electorate to the point where they defenestrate the majority party.
Some of these Democrats in swing districts have already smartly tried to distance themselves from the federal health care bill. Democratic senator Pat Kreitlow took a break from his windbaggery to co-sponsor a bill allowing for a tax credit for Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), a concept previously anathema to legislative Democrats. (I can’t wait to hear his fellow Democrats lambaste him for “only wanting to help the rich,” as they’ve done to Republicans for a decade for supporting HSAs.) Kreitlow’s approach marks a stark contrast to the remainder of the Democratic Senate, which a couple of years ago actually tried to sneak in a state health plan that managed to be much worse than ObamaCare.
(Oh yeah, remember the “Healthy Wisconsin” single payer health plan? The one that was SO important Senate Democrats had to sneak it in to the state budget with one day’s notice? The one that we’re all supposed to pretend never happened? In some odd way, state Democrats may have been saved by their own incompetence – had “Healthy Wisconsin” passed, we’d probably be looking at a State Senate in which Republicans outnumbered Democrats 32 to 1. (Madison will continue to elect Fred Risser’s democratic brain in a jar for 100 years after his death.)
So while Democrats at the federal level may have delivered themselves a “victory,” they may have also delivered their colleagues at the state level a death blow. Their “courageous” vote (note: in most cases, taking bribes in order to vote for a bill is criminal – President Obama has now deemed it “courageous”) may now deliver the states the same thing Ted Kennedy delivered to Massachusetts – more Republicans.
Oh, and a final note – I wrote a whole post without making the inevitable “health care is bad medicine for the Democrats” joke. Although I guess I just did.