September 14, 2009


The Ghosts of 1994 (ROSS DOUTHAT, 9/14/09, NY Times)

[Frank] Luntz insisted that in the run-up to the ’94 election, “it wasn’t the health care debate that was driving the anger; it was the crime bill.”

That piece of legislation, which mixed stricter sentencing laws with more money for prison-building and more financing for police, was supposed to cement Clinton’s reputation as a tough-minded centrist.

Instead, the crime bill became a lightning rod for populist outrage. The price tag made it seem fiscally irresponsible. (Back then, $30 billion was real money.) The billions it lavished on crime prevention — like the infamous funding of “midnight basketball” — looked liked ineffective welfare spending. The gun-control provisions felt like liberalism-as-usual.

“Every day that the Republicans delayed the bill,” Luntz remembers, “the public learned more about it — and the more they learned, the angrier they got.”

That’s exactly what’s been happening now. The health care push has opened up arguments about abortion, euthanasia and illegal immigration that the Democrats would rather avoid. At the same time, it’s become the vessel for a year’s worth of anxieties about bailouts, deficits and Beltway incompetence.

POLL: Obama's Speech Doesn't Turn the Tide (GARY LANGER, Sept. 14, 200, ABC News)
Bottom-line views on health care reform have stabilized but failed to improve since President Obama addressed the nation, leaving him with a continued challenge in selling his plan to a public that remains skeptical about its benefits and costs alike.

Obama shows some improvement. He's stanched his losses, shored up his base and gained on a few specifics. But his speech was no game-changer: Americans in this ABC News/Washington Post poll divide by 48-48 percent on his handling of the issue and by 46-48 percent on the reform package itself, both essentially the same as their pre-address levels.

More continue to think reform will worsen rather than improve their own care, costs and coverage. There's still a nearly even split on whether it'll improve care for most people in general. More think it'll weaken rather than strengthen Medicare. And nearly two-thirds think it'll boost the already vast federal deficit.

...the GOP gets to run against the fact that it boosts the deficit and raises taxes.

Blue Dogs Turn Red (W. James Antle, III, September 2009, American Spectator)

[R]oll over again, Blue Dogs, lest the voters hit your snouts with a rolled-up newspaper. To this advice there is only one reply: Remember Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky? In 1993, this first-term Pennsylvania Democrat spared her president and party an embarrassing defeat on the budget. With numerous defections from Congress's least liberal Democrats, a unified wall of Republicans came close to defeating Bill Clinton's first, tax-raising deficit- reduction plan. Margolies-Mezvinsky cast the deciding vote in the House; Al Gore did the same in the Senate.

Clinton's budget passed. The top marginal income tax rate increased by one-third, the second time it was raised in three years. Drivers were hit with a gasoline tax hike, seniors saw the taxable portion of their Social Security benefits zoom past 80 percent, the middle-class tax cut vanished into the ether of broken campaign promises. A stunning victory for the Democrats and a reminder of how impotent the Republicans had become -- until the next election.

Margolies-Mezvinsky went down in flames in 1994. She was joined by dozens of other Democrats representing districts where raising taxes gets you a free ticket to the private sector rather than a Profile in Courage award. Even some Democrats who voted against the Clinton tax increase found themselves washed out with the tide.

Of course, it wasn't the tax increase alone that doomed the Democrats in Clinton's first midterm elections. Gays in the military, Joycelyn Elders, the administration's abortion advocacy, gun control, midnight basketball, and a series of scandals large and small all contributed. But these liberal political gambits hurt Democrats in marginal districts whether they passed (like the crime bill and assault weapons ban) or didn't even come up for a vote (like the Clinton health care plan).

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 14, 2009 7:24 AM
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