Michael Gerson

WASHINGTON -- In closing the deal on health care reform, Democratic leaders assured wavering legislators that the plan would grow more popular with time as its benefits became clear. "We have to pass the bill," argued House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, so that the public "can find out what is in it." Presidential adviser David Axelrod predicted that Republicans would pay a political price for their opposition. "Let's have that fight," he said. "Make my day." Consistent with this belief, the administration recently has been rolling out attractive elements of the law, including coverage for dependents up to age 26.

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But after a brief bump, support for Democratic health reform has declined. According to a recent Rasmussen poll, 63 percent of voters support repeal of the law, the highest level since passage. A Kaiser Family Foundation health tracking poll shows erosion in the intensity of support. Last month, 23 percent of Americans held "very favorable" views of the law. This month, that figure is 14 percent, with most of the falloff coming among Democrats (Republicans and independents already being skeptical).

On the theory that the distribution of lollipops usually doesn't provoke riots of resentment, opposition to the health entitlement requires explanation.

One cause is simply economic. At a time when Americans are focused on recovery and job creation -- and how deficits and debt may eventually undermine both -- the economic case for Democratic health reform has been weak, contrived, even deceptive. Recent events in Congress make the point. Two months after passing a law that supporters claimed would reduce federal deficits, largely through Medicare cuts, the House is moving toward a temporary "doctor fix" that would add tens of billions in Medicare costs. Even more expensive fixes are likely in the future. Congressional leaders knew this spending would be necessary when they passed health reform in March. Yet they didn't include this liability in the law, in order to hide the overall cost of the entitlement. In a failing corporation, this would be a scandal, investigated by Congress. In Congress, this is known as legislative strategy.

The economic arguments for reform -- that it would reduce the deficit and health inflation -- were questionable from the beginning. Now they have been revealed as absurd. There is a social justice case for expanding health coverage. But Americans have not found it credible that the creation of a massive new entitlement will somehow help the economy.

Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
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