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Polling: House Bill More Popular Than Senate Bill in Swing Districts

It’s not every day that the head of the DCCC takes on the President, the Senate and the entire Democratic leadership of the House to defy passage of their hand-crafted legislation on their signature issue. But Chris Van Hollen has said that the House will not pass the Senate bill without changes, as the Senate and the White House are demanding.

Why would the man charged with getting House Democrats elected in 2010 do such a thing?

Well, if you look at the polling, provisions that limit the ability of insurance companies to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions or impose lifetime caps on benefits are popular across the board. What gets people worked up is the pricetag: who pays and where the money goes.

Conclusion #1: People want a public option as a check on the insurance industry

When Anzalone Liszt Research and Lake Research Partners polled likely voters in September 2009 and asked them which they preferred — an individual mandate to buy insurance from a private company, or the the individual mandate with the choice of a public option, here’s what they found:

Senate Bill

National House Swing Maine

House Bill

National House Swing Maine
Individual mandate
Favor Oppose Favor Oppose Favor Oppose Mandate + PO Favor Oppose Favor Oppose Favor Oppose
“Requiring everyone
to buy and be
covered by a private
health insurance plan”
34% 64% 34% 60% 35% 55% “Requiring everyone to
buy and be covered by
a health insurance plan
with a choice between
a public option and
private insurance plans”
60% 37% 50% 46% 55% 40%

In swing districts — the ones we’re supposed to be concerned about protecting, which is apparently why they let the Blue Dogs send women’s reproductive rights back to the stone age — they just don’t like being forced to pay money to private insurance companies. And I actually don’t think this is an adequate snapshot of what people really feel about the individual mandate, because when we polled swing districts we found that what people really objected to was not the mandate but the fine of up to 2% of their annual income for non-compliance. Our numbers had an even bigger swing for Arkansas-02, Ohio 01, New York 01 and Indiana 09.

Still, by every measurement they took, the mandate plus public option in the House bill was overwhelmingly more popular than the Senate bill’s mandate alone, which was never favored by more than 35%. But the idea that removing the public option from the House bill rendered it more popular in swing districts is laughable.

Conclusion #2 People would rather have wealthy people foot the bill than have their existing insurance coverage weakened

Now let’s look at how the Senate and House plans compare with regard to taxes they impose in order to pay for their respective bills. The Lake/Anzalone polls also looked at the popularity of the excise tax in the Senate bill vs. the tax on the wealthy in the House bill:

Senate Bill

National House Swing Maine

House Bill

National House Swing Maine
Favor Oppose Favor Oppose Favor Oppose Tax on wealthy
Favor Oppose Favor Oppose Favor Oppose
Placing a tax on the
highest-cost private
insurance policies in
order to pay for health
care reform”
41% 54% 29% 55% 40% 50% “Raising taxes on
households making
more than three
hundred fifty
thousand dollars
a year in order to pay
for health care reform”
60% 40% 53% 43% 57% 38%

The polling finds that the House surcharge is significantly more popular in swing districts than the Cadillac tax. The Anzalone pollsters also found that “voters are less likely to re-elect their member of Congress or President Obama by margins of 41 points (63% less likely to 22% more likely) and 38 points (61% to 23%), respectively, if they support an excise tax.” Those are numbers that must give House Democrats nightmares.

Okay, are we getting the picture here? Good. Because we’re just getting started. It gets worse.

They also find that Independent voters flee over the issue: “Across each region, opposition to taxing high-cost insurance plans is even higher among Independents, with 74% of these voters overall opposed to such a tax.”

A couple of anomalous polls maybe? Well, doesn’t appear that way. Recent major polling bears this out:

Senate vs. House


Oct. 15-18, 2009

USA Today/Gallup

Oct. 16-19, 2009


Jan. 18-19, 2010
Favor Oppose Favor Oppose Favor Oppose Favor Oppose
Cadillac Tax (Senate) 35% 61% 38% 59% 38% 59% 33% 63%
Tax on wealthy (House)
61% 34% 61% 34% 64% 35%

Per Rasmussen, opposition rises to the excise tax to 70% if unions are exempted from it — which is in part the proposed “fix” negotiated by the White House. I can only imagine what would happen to those numbers they raise taxes to pay for that fix, which is what they’re going to have to do to come through on the deal with the unions. If they don’t pay for it with a Medicare buy-in type public option or blow up the PhRMA deal, that’s what they’re going to have to do. But nobody seems to be contemplating that.

And nobody has even polled Ben Nelson’s “cornhusker kickback,” which is stuck in the Senate bill.  It’s probably slightly less popular than a mass outbreak of typhoid.

So what can we conclude from all of this?

Electoral slaughter is being imposed on the House if they are forced to swallow the Senate bill and honor Rahm Emanuel’s back-room deals

Obama and most Senate incumbents don’t really have to worry about the electoral consequences of getting a “win” and passing the Senate bill. The Senate’s “pride of authorship” and desire to pay off their big donors has rendered them recalcitrant even now that the “60 vote” myth has been blown up. To change the bill all they need now is 51 votes through reconciliation, and they can’t even muster those. No, Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson were just an excuse, a public front for what the White House wanted to do all along. The House can get stuffed: it’s the Senate’s way or the highway.

Democratic House members, however, see their own political futures coming to an end in 2010, in a “we are all Martha Coakley” moment that no amount of spin will take away. Districts like AR-02 and OH-01 were listed as “tossup” races, but polling by SurveyUSA showed the incumbents down 17 points against their Republican opponents.

Sorry, Martha Coakley’s limitations as a candidate do not cast a halo that spreads all the way to Arkansas a week before.

So, Democrats in the House are standing there with pitchforks and telling Chris Van Hollen to get the hell out there and protect them. And Van Hollen, who probably doesn’t want to go down in history as the captain of the 2010 Titanic who lost control of the House for the Democrats, is doing it.

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Polling: House Bill Much More Popular Than Senate Bill in Swing Districts

Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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