Opinion: GOP gets it wrong on health law

Eighty-three percent of Americans, according to last week’s NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, disapprove of Congress. That was the highest level in the history of the poll. The anger is so deep now that 57 percent want the entire Congress thrown out.

Why are people so mad at Congress? The poll produced a simple, concrete answer:


“Offered a list of what makes them least happy about Washington, a plurality of Americans cited the capital’s partisanship and the inability of Congress to get things done,” according to the Journal’s story on the poll. And Republicans get most of the blame for the currently poisonous partisan politics.

“Americans pointed to Republicans far more than to [President] Obama as putting partisanship above efforts to unify the country … 67 percent said Republicans emphasize a partisan approach at the expense of unity, compared with 48 percent who said that of Obama,” the newspaper reported.

The key evidence of congressional partisanship is the GOP’s never-ending effort to repeal, damage or defund the Affordable Healthcare Act, also called ObamaCare.

A majority of Americans agreed, “Republicans in Congress should stop trying to prevent the law from going into effect,” according to the news story on the polling. The Journal noted that Republicans in the House have held nearly 40 votes in an effort to stop the law from taking effect.

But congressional Republicans are no dummies. They read polls, too.

They can see that 17 percent of Republicans in the Journal poll are part of the national majority asking them to quit their futile assault on ObamaCare. “By now they should just leave it alone — it is what it is,” one Republican mother from North Carolina told reporters.

But in Washington, congressional Republicans are not concerned with general public disapproval of their bad behavior. They see a path to winning the 2014 mid-term elections — holding the House and possibly winning a majority in the Senate — by bashing ObamaCare. 

A June Kaiser poll found 76 percent of Republicans disapprove of Obama’s signature healthcare plan. Nothing unifies and excites the GOP’s activist base like cursing Obama and his No. 1 legislative accomplishment.

Reuters reported last week that House Republicans are being advised by their leadership to use August town-hall meetings in their home districts to stir anxiety and eventually rebellion against the healthcare law.  

In addition, FreedomWorks, a Tea Party group, is organizing right-wingers to protest healthcare reform at August town-hall meetings put on by House Democrats. Meanwhile, Americans for Prosperity, the conservative group funded by the billionaire Koch brothers, is sponsoring a media effort to get young people, ages 20-40, to refuse to sign up for healthcare coverage.

And Crossroads GPS, co-founded by Republican strategist Karl Rove, is aiming its money at a campaign to stir rebellion among seniors with the message that ObamaCare is taking money from Medicare.

“There are folks out there who are actively working to make this law fail,” Obama said in a speech last week. He called the GOP’s planned attack a “politically motivated misinformation campaign.”

It is hard to argue with the president on this one.

The GOP is proudly without any interest in making the new national healthcare plan work. This is exactly what angers the Americans who told the Journal they are fed up with Congress.

That is why the Republican political strategy on ObamaCare is so wrong. First, it leaves them open to their greatest vulnerability: charges of being unproductive obstructionists and brazen partisans. Second, it is a serious misreading of the public.

Even with most polls showing a plurality of Americans opposed to ObamaCare, there is widespread public discontent with today’s high-cost healthcare system. 

A June 2012 poll by The Washington Post found 56 percent of Americans have an unfavorable impression of the current healthcare system. A United Technologies/National Journal poll in September of last year found 50 percent of Americans believe the president’s health care reform act will “make things better for the country overall.” 

The winning ticket for a Republican effort to use ObamaCare against the president is to come up with a better idea for improving America’s healthcare system.

Every poker player knows you cannot beat something with nothing. And at the moment, the GOP is offering no alternative fix for the nation’s ailing healthcare system. 

With a GOP plan, the party would put the White House on the defensive and excite its base.

The Democrats are vulnerable to political damage as they roll out a big government mandated health program. If only the opposition was savvy enough to exploit it.

Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.