The unexpected victory of Republican Jimmy Higdon in the Kentucky state Senate special election -- despite a 2-to-1 Democratic registration advantage -- is another fire bell in the night that national Democrats are going to ignore. Marking the 33rd Republican win in the 50 or so special elections since 2008, the Kentucky race was a referendum on health care reform. Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear acknowledged that "The Republican Party was successful in … national(izing) this race." The winning margin was 12 points in a district that was supposed to drop into the Democrat's lap like a ripe peach.
But the Democratic Party is not listening to actual voters any more than it is heeding a string of polls showing declining support for a health care overhaul and for politicians who push it. A new Quinnipiac poll finds that 52 percent of respondents oppose the health care reform under consideration in Congress, while only 38 percent support it. The same poll found that only 38 percent approve of the way President Obama is handling the issue, while 56 percent disapprove. Graveyard? What graveyard?
The Quinnipiac poll found the lowest overall approval rating yet for President Obama at 46 percent. Other results are similar. The RealClearPolitics average shows the president's approval rating at 48.6 -- down from 62 percent in June. Gallup found that 49 percent of voters would advise their representative to vote against health care reform while 44 percent would counsel voting in favor. Rasmussen's survey found that only 41 percent favor the bill.
If this were a referendum, it's clear which side would prevail.
Aside from the unpopularity of the legislation itself, Americans are dismayed at the Democrats' stubborn unresponsiveness to their priorities. All major polls show that by more than a 2-to-1 margin, voters are more concerned about the economy and jobs than about health care.
Yet Speaker Pelosi reiterated again this week that "We would do almost anything to pass a health care bill." Points for frankness.
Politicians are routinely chastised for pandering to voters -- and the Democrats have done more than their share. But this is the opposite and it is even less uplifting. The Democratic Party is determined to shove health care reform down the nation's throat utterly disregarding the electorate's wishes. They (probably) have the votes to do it. But, as Al Gore might put it, railroading unpopular legislation through is a "risky scheme."
Because Democrats like to hold office, it cannot be that they are moved only by ideological rigidity. They must be convinced that once their reform becomes law, voters will be happy with it. They must also believe that the voters are as insincere as Democrats themselves are when they express worry about the size of the national debt.
But the gamble may not pay off. Between now and 2010, the ramifications of the Democrats' truly reckless plunge into the deepest debt in our history will become clearer. Conservative estimates put the number of new bureaus, commissions, and agencies hidden in those 2,000 page bills at 100 -- all staffed with bureaucrats ready to complicate the process of getting well.
A proposal Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid appears to be touting will permit a "buy in" to Medicare for those between the ages of 55 and 64. Do they expect this to be popular? Medicare already has an unfunded liability of $89 trillion. Only a Democrat could conclude that the solution to the problem of vastly overpromised government benefits is more promises.
Medicare also fails to pay the full costs of care for its patients. Hospitals and providers recoup the difference by charging higher premiums to those with private health insurance. The Pacific Research Institute estimates that Medicare shifts almost $50 billion in costs to the private sector annually. More Medicare beneficiaries will translate into more cost shifting. Private insurance rates will have to rise. This will not surprise voters, 63 percent of whom expect their premiums to increase under the Democrats' reform. Details like the Medicare expansion and substantial new taxes tucked into the small print will not play well. Voters will ask themselves: Why is this burden being imposed again?
Surveying his polling results, Quinnipiac pollster Peter Brown said, "It's a good thing for those pushing the health care overhaul in Congress that the American people don't get a vote."
But they do -- eventually.