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The politics of health care: Will Democrats pay a price?

The instant President Obama signed health-care reform into law, the November midterm elections were transformed into a referendum on the biggest expansion of federal power in decades.

If you thought the debate over health-care legislation was nasty, said Mark McKinnon in TheDailyBeast.com, “you ain’t seen nothing yet.” The instant President Obama signed health-care reform into law this week, the November midterm elections were transformed into a referendum on the biggest expansion of federal power in decades. “Republicans have been fighting a theoretical boogeyman. Now they’ve got the real thing.” For Republicans, fighting ObamaCare—with its tax increases, massive spending, and requirement that everyone buy insurance—will be “a holy war.” Now we’ll find out what kind of country Americans want, said Rich Lowry in the New York Post. Will we become a “social democracy,” like France or Sweden, or a nation where individual freedom is paramount?

Sorry, guy, but you’re not going to like the answer, said Joe Conason in Salon.com. The GOP tried to kill reform by scaring people with hysterical claims about “death panels” and “socialism” and “government takeover.” But now the debate becomes about “what is actually in the legislation,” and that’s terrifying, all right—for Republicans. The law bans insurance companies from cutting off payments for people who become very sick, and from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions. It closes the “doughnut hole” in prescription-drug coverage for Medicare recipients. It also requires existing policies to cover a beneficiary’s children up to the age of 26. Do Republican demagogues like House Minority Leader John Boehner—who ranted that reform “will ruin the country”—actually plan to campaign against changes that will improve the lives of millions of Americans? The GOP just got “hoisted with its own cynical petard,” said Arianna Huffington in Huffingtonpost.com. Now that their “toxic smokescreen of fear-mongering” has been lifted, the party that fought Social Security and Medicare has again been exposed as “unified against progress.” The public is already warming up to the new benefits, said Susan Page in USA Today. A new USA Today/Gallup poll found a stunning turnaround in support for the package, with 49 percent saying it was “a good thing” that Congress passed the bill, and just 40 percent saying it was “a bad thing.” Still, Democrats have the most to lose, said William Saletan in Slate.com, since they control both houses and the anti-incumbent anger out there is real. But by voting unanimously against reform, Republicans “bet their whole party against it.” If the public hates it, Republicans will be rewarded with a big gain in seats in November. “But if the public likes it, they’re in trouble.” Whatever happens in November, said Michael Gerson in The Washington Post, the big winner in this saga is Obama. As a conservative, I find the creation of a massive entitlement during a time of mounting deficits to be “historically irresponsible.” Yet “the most important public judgment made about a president is not ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’; it is ‘strong’ or ‘weak.’” Just when it looked as if health-care reform was dead, Obama emerged as a passionate, tenacious leader willing to put his presidency on the line for his principles. “When push came to shove, he shoved.” By so doing, Obama put himself in the pantheon of great, progressive presidents, from Abraham Lincoln to FDR to LBJ, said Todd Purdum in VanityFair.com. Obama has proved wrong those who doubted his guts and his political skills, and “he is now part of a very small club.”

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