WASHINGTON -- President Obama and his top White House advisers have been pushing Democratic leaders for months to bring his problem-plagued healthcare reforms up for a vote as soon as possible.
Not because it is critical that his healthcare-overhaul plans become the law of the land this year. The effective date of its implementation would not be until 2013, if not later.
The real reason is because the longer congressional debate drags on, the weaker Obama becomes politically and thus the greater the chances that doubtful Democrats will desert him when the roll is called.
That, of course, is what is now happening to Obama, both to his public-approval polls and to public support for what Americans increasingly see as a radical attempt to seize control of the private healthcare system when the evidence shows that government doesn't run its own programs very well, let alone the nation's massive medical-care industry.
The president's job-approval numbers have been collapsing, down into the high 40s in some surveys. Support for his healthcare plan has been plummeting. Now, even his party has been losing public support on the major issues facing the nation.
A nationwide Washington Post poll of more than 1,000 Americans showed this week that just 46 percent support his plan (other polls show it lower than that) and nearly half (48 percent) are opposed.
The poll further showed that "nearly half of all Americans, 45 percent, say the reform plan would create too much government involvement in the system." This is roughly on a par with polls that were taken on Hillarycare in 1993 and 1994 just before President Clinton's plan went down in flames in a Democratic Congress without ever reaching a vote.
Significantly, the poll found that over half of independents said Obama's plans amounted to "overreach," and two-thirds said it would worsen the government's already swollen $1.5 trillion budget deficit.
Perhaps most troubling of all for the White House, senior citizens were "solidly opposed to healthcare reform, and the number who think government involvement would do more harm than good continues to rise." Earlier this summer, seniors trusted Obama much more they did the Republicans, but now, with Obama's plan poised to carve $500 billion out of Medicare's many services and benefits, polls now show they trust the GOP more by 44 percent to 39 percent. As a result, Obama's job-disapproval numbers have risen to nearly 60 percent among seniors -- a stunning rebuke of the president from a once reliable Democratic constituency.
Republicans have been winning on other medical-care fronts as well. Close to two-thirds now support placing curbs on medical-malpractice lawsuits. And support is falling for Obama's plan to slap a new federal tax on insurance companies, especially when Americans are reminded that this will drive up insurance premiums.
Meanwhile, more and more Democrats on Capitol Hill are pulling away from Obama on health care. A House Republican whip count showed that at least 44 Democrats are on record opposing their party's bill -- a striking testament to the angry town-hall forums during the August recess and the massive tea-party rally at the Capitol Saturday that some organizers said drew several hundred thousand protesters.
And Democrats are looking increasingly divided in the Senate over Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus' plan that has ditched large portions of the House bill, including a government-run insurance plan and higher taxes on upper-income Americans.
Forget the so-called "public option," which is as dead as a doornail and the fight over who should be taxed to pay for it. New issues have arisen in the Senate over the Montana Democrat's plan: such as its requirement that all Americans must buy health insurance by 2013, which would fall heaviest on middle-class citizens who are struggling to make ends meet now, let alone adding health-insurance premiums to their overstretched budgets.
The specter of slapping middle-income Americans with a government-mandated bill they cannot afford was the last straw for Senate Democrats such as Ron Wyden of Oregon, who is telling some of his colleagues that the bill will require more subsidies. But that of course will mean making it more expensive and further add to the deficit or the nation's tax burden.
"How can the government force people to buy insurance without imposing a huge new financial burden on millions of middle-class taxpayers?" the Post asked in a front-page article Tuesday. How indeed?
That is why the word is circulating in congressional cloakrooms that Senate Democrats will not have the 60 votes they will need to cut off an expected Republican filibuster when a bill reaches the Senate.
When millions of middle-class Americans learn that they are going to be forced to buy plans they cannot afford, or else be slapped with a sizable federal penalty, the Democrats may not have a simple majority, either.