Obama pollster: U.S. will like healthcare bill, despite poll numbers

President Barack Obama's pollster said the healthcare bill will win over public support once it becomes law despite polls showing Americans against the plan.

The argument by Joel Benenson, Obama's lead pollster, rests on a chunk of Americans who now oppose the bill supporting it after it's passed. Benenson said that group -- which is anywhere from a tenth to a third of Americans, according surveys by CNN and Ipsos -- is skeptical of the bill because it doesn't go far enough.

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"When it comes to health care and insurance, once reform passes, the tangible benefits Americans will realize will trump the fear-mongering rhetoric opponents are stoking today," Benenson wrote in a Washington Post op-ed Saturday.

Republicans and other opponents of the bill say it's simpler than that. According to the Pollster.com average of all polls, 48 percent of the country oppose the healthcare bill and 44 percent support it.

The poll numbers are being wielded as evidence by both sides as they make their final cases to members of Congress, who are scheduled to begin final votes on the package late next week.

Benenson's argument was a partial response to two other Democratic pollsters who warned of a big GOP victory if healthcare passes.

Doug Schoen, who polled for former Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), and Pat Caddell, a former aide to President Jimmy Carter, said Obama and Democratic congressional leaders are deluding themselves by thinking they'll benefit politically from pushing through an unpopular bill.

"Their blind persistence in the face of reality threatens to turn this political march of folly into an electoral rout in November," Caddell and Schoen wrote this week.

At the very least, the numbers show a public more wary than not of the healthcare bill. But the surveys indeed have something for everybody.

For instance, the same CNN poll from January showing a tenth of Americans against the bill because it wasn't liberal enough found a definite majority -- 57 percent -- opposed the bill. And while more Americans have been against the bill than those for it since last summer, the gap has been closing, going from 10 percent in January to 4 percent this week, according to the Pollster.com average.


A House leadership aide said Democrats will vote in the best interests of their districts and country, but will also be "armed with everything they need" in deciding their vote.

"I don't think many folks in our caucus bought this bogus polling myth the other side has been peddling, but having solid evidence based on real data to respond is very helpful," said Doug Thornell, an aide to Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the fifth-ranking House Democrat.

Republicans are sure opposition to the bill won't change, even when it becomes law. GOP leaders said opposition has hardened because of the way Democrats have used legislative deals to win support for it and are planning to pass parts of it through the reconciliation process, which allows the measure to advance with a simple Senate majority instead of 60 votes.

And while the independent Congressional Budget Office projects the Senate bill to cost less than $900 billion and cut the deficit by more than $100 trillion in its first 10 years, Republicans say the cost will be higher. Senate GOP estimates have the bill's price tag as $2.5 trillion in the decade starting in 2014, when much of the spending under the bill kicks in.

GOP electoral wins in Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial races last year and in the Massachusetts Senate race in January show "voters are ready to hold Democrats accountable in November," said Republican National Committee spokeswoman Katie Wright.

"What Americans have rejected for the past year is a massive $2.5 trillion government-run healthcare bill filled with special deals, higher taxes and unchecked costs," Wright said.


This story was updated at 11 p.m.