Key House Dem: Health reform may have seemed like distraction from economy

Democrats' focus on healthcare reform might have seemed like a distraction to voters whose top concern was the economy, the leader of first-term House Democrats suggested Tuesday.

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), the president of this Congress's first-term Democrats, said that his party's months-long battle to pass healthcare reform might have come off as a distraction considering the tough economic climate in the U.S.

"I think that the focus of the public, with stubborn unemployment remaining so high, was on the growing the economy and creating jobs," Connolly said Tuesday during an appearance on TBD TV in metropolitan Washington. "And anything else seemed like a distraction."

The northern Virginia lawmaker was among the 219 House Democrats to support the legislation on final passage in late March, a vote which capped off months of intense debate over the reform legislation.

That legislation has since developed into a central part of the midterm election battle this fall, in which Republicans have vowed to repeal the healthcare reform package, and have condemned Democrats for not having done enough to stimulate the economy.

Recent polling suggests that the public's fluctuating opinion on the health reforms might have ticked downward, too, adding to Democrats' woes heading into this fall.

A new tracking poll commissioned by the Kaiser Health Foundation found that 43 percent of the public now support the healthcare bill -- down seven points from July -- while opposition ticked upward by 10 points to 45 percent.

Still, Connolly said he thought that he would win reelection, and that enough of his colleagues in the House would win reelection to ensure Democrats would remain in the majority come next year, when a new Congress is sworn in.