Health Care Reform Should Be Judged on Its Merits, Not on Polling

Someone should do a poll. The question: should politicians base their votes based on polls or on their own judgment and belief? There was a time when I think the general consensus might have been in favor of politicians standing for something in spite of the prevailing wind. Now it’s clear that the answer is whatever the politician wants it to be at the time.

Exhibit One: I’m at the National Association of Health Underwriters Capitol Conference in Washington, DC. This morning the general session featured lawmakers (from both parties) including Representative Mike Pence, part of the Republican Leadership in the House. Representative Pence, a former radio talk show host, is articulate and bright.

One of his arguments for why President Barack Obama’s health care reform package should be defeated, however, was that polls show Americans oppose the health care reform the legislation. This point has been made frequently and consistently by many Republicans and opponents of the President’s reforms.

Interestingly, this line of reasoning was not brought up when, late last year, during the debate over reforming how banks and other financial institutions are regulated. The financial reform bill passed without a single Republican vote. I assume Democrats made the argument during the debate that Republicans should support the legislation because polls show the public supports such reforms. (Interestingly, when individual components of the health care reform package are surveyed, voters tend to favor them).

So apparently many politicians believe lawmakers should cast their vote in accordance to the polls when the polls coincide with the pre-existing position of the politicians, but should vote their conscience when the polls disagree with their pre-existing position. (Note: a pre-existing position is different than a pre-existing condition. Just so we’re clear).

Legislating by responding to polls is a dangerous path. It subjects legislating to the passion of the moments. The Founding Fathers were aware of the dangers of this approach, consciously creating layers of checks and balances to prevent this outcome (a fact Representative Pence noted in arguing for subjecting health care reform to a 60-vote super-majority in the Senate). If our representatives in Washington are simply supposed to cast their vote in accordance with the latest polls we could save a lot of money by simply replacing all 535 members of Congress with the folks at the Gallup Organization.

But that’s not what most Americans want most of the time. Instead, Americans expect their representatives to debate, deliberate and use their best judgment. After all, we generally consider those who stand by their principles statesmen; those who base their votes on the latest survey results we consider mere politicians.

There’s a lot wrong with President Obama’s health care reform plan. Opposing it because of the latest survey results is a lousy reason. Instead, lawmakers who determine the package will do more harm than the status quo, should vote against it. Representatives who conclude the reforms are an improvement over the status quo should vote for it.

It’s really as simple as that. No polling required.

13 thoughts on “Health Care Reform Should Be Judged on Its Merits, Not on Polling

  1. igree with this

    The “checks and balances” that exist in the Constitution are plentiful without the additional “extra-Constitutional” concepts of the filibuster, cloture votes, 60- or 67- vote super-majorities and all the rest of it.

    A rallying cry maybe but I expect more from our President. Where is his outrage over record profits in pharma and medical devices? Why aren’t they called on the carpet? If some these companies turned in the results that an Anthem, Aetna or United did there would be a good chance the board would oust their CEO.

  2. I think what frightens me most about this entire debate…from both sides of the aisle… is that we have forsaken logic in the name of “getting something done”. Polls be damned. Each and every one of us should look at the flaws and the merits of the bill and decide for ourselves if this is something that we want enacted. On the surface that sounds fairly straightforward. The devil is, of course, in the details.

    If I truly believed for a second that this bill would expand coverage while cutting costs I’d vote for it right here and now. The simple fact of the matter is, I don’t believe it will. I just don’t believe you can get something for nothing. If we TRULY want to save money, the only tried and true method of doing so is cutting… cutting services, cutting programs, cutting inefficiency/fraud and abuse in our current system. Let’s focus on THAT before we even open the floor to discussion about new programs.

  3. “The Founding Fathers were aware of the dangers of this approach, consciously creating layers of checks and balances to prevent this outcome (a fact Representative Pence noted in arguing for subjecting health care reform to a 60-vote super-majority in the Senate)”

    The Founding Fathers never intended for the Senate to operate on the basis of anything more than a simple majority. The “checks and balances” that exist in the Constitution are plentiful without the additional “extra-Constitutional” concepts of the filibuster, cloture votes, 60- or 67- vote super-majorities and all the rest of it.

    I know that current opponents of HCR are (in some cases suddenly) big proponents of bi-partisanship and super-majority rule, but invoking the intentions of the Founding Fathers to support that bent has a certain whiff of irony to it. Not exactly “Keep your Government hands off my Medicare!” irony, but in the neighborhood…

    • “…Keep your Government hands off my Medicare!” irony, but in the neighborhood…”
      – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

      Bob:

      Perhaps you can explain why some of you seem to think that those of us who feel that “Medicare”, paid for by beneficiaries, in many cases, for over four decades (40 years) should not be protected for those who have invested, willingly or not, in this program. It strikes me as bizarre that those who lead the case for a government run program (as if anything the government has run is on a square footing…SS, Medicare, Medicaid, VA, yada, yada, yada, etc; and you want to give Obama & Company another opportunity to screw up another government run program???!!!) yet begrudge those who have paid in (with employer funds added) to the first really socialized program we have want the investors to “shut up and go away”. Would self-serving interests, as in “Give me my single payor system! I don’t care who must suffer the consequences, give me what I want and give it to me now!” have anything to do with this strange attitude? If not, why the acerbic responses to those of us who plead the case for Medicare beneficiares who have earned their benefits? It certainly seems highly hypocritical to me. Perhaps, you can enlighten us.

      Regarding the 60% rule, I have always opposed it, and this BS regarding “Reconciliation” that “The Republicans did it and we were angry that they did, so now it is our turn to get even!” is truly representative of the actions and comments of children playing in a schoolyard.

      Regarding what the Founding Fathers wanted, it seems to me that what they didn’t want is precisely what is now taking place…the Democrats are trying and will likely suceed) in “shoving it down the 85% of Americans’ throats who do not want it. My comments were clear, unmistakeable…it is wrong to have the WH and Congress, both Houses, be ruled by the same party, Republican, Democrat, or Pink. In such a case, as we have already witnessed by the actions of the republicans AND the Democrats, the American Public will not, can not, be served.

      Suggesting that some are “suddenly” in favor of “bi-partisanship” and “Super-majorities” is not only insulting, it is the first time I’ve heard it mentioned, anywhere, and I read at least eight newspapers a day, and am a political news junkie. Please tell me, inform me, from whence came that complaint, from any quarter? Sources would be appreciated.

      • You have missed my point entirely. My “Keep your Government hands off my Medicare” reference is to reported incidents at last summer’s Tea Parties of concerned citizens– whipped into a frenzy over the evils of big government socialism– begging for the government to stay out of Medicare. While this was widely reported (try googling that phrase), I assumed it was urban myth until I saw polling data to back it up…

        From: http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/pdf/surveys/2009_Archives/PPP_Release_National_819513.pdf
        “One poll question indicative of how difficult it is to gain public understanding on a complicated issue asked if respondents
        thought the government should ‘stay out of Medicare,’ something inherently impossible. 39% said yes.”

        Not sure what you mean by “wrong”. It certainly is not unconstitutional and certainly was not something that the Founding Fathers wanted to prevent. Political parties were not then what they are today, but if the FF wanted to prevent a single party from controlling the legislative and executive branches, it would have taken one sentence in the Constitution to achieve that. I would also argue that it is not the case that the country “can not be served” when one party controls both legislative houses and the Presidency. Would you say the country was not served well under the presidencies of Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, both Roosevelts, Andrew Jackson, JFK, and LBJ? If so, historians and the voting public during those presidents’ terms would disagree with you.

        I hear a lot more about “bi-partisanship” and the sanctity of the “Super-majority” from McConnell, Boehner, et al. now than I did when George Bush was in the White House and Republicans had legislative majorities. By the same token, I hear a lot less about the value of bi-partisanship from Pelosi, Reid, et al. now than I did during that same timeframe. If that comment insulted you, then again, I think you misunderstood it— “political junkie” though you may be.

        • While I am amazed that any poll could show that 39% of the respondents could be so “mentally challenged” to not realize that medicare is a government run program, I’ll accept that number as the number Public Policy Polling has accepted. That said, I’d much rather see a similar poll result from a more nationally recognized and accepted polling company as Gallup or Rasmussen, both widely accepted.

          And as far as the Tea-partiers” comments are concerned, your “insulting” sentence was, “I know that current opponents of HCR are (in some cases suddenly) big proponents of bi-partisanship and super-majority rule, but invoking the intentions of the Founding Fathers to support that bent has a certain whiff of irony to it. Not exactly “Keep your Government hands off my Medicare!” irony, but in the neighborhood…” Bob, the vast majority of the opponents of HCR, as represented in this current proposed legislation, are NOT tea-party members. Yet you just said that, “My “Keep your Government hands off my Medicare” reference is to reported incidents at last summer’s TEA PARTIES of concerned citizens– whipped into a frenzy over the evils of big government socialism– begging for the government to stay out of Medicare.” Most of us are moderates, centrists, independents, and wouldn’t be caught dead at a Tea-party meeting of any sort. The radical and extreme right has already hijacked that movement (big surprise). Your implication and now validating of that implication demonstrates that I did not mis-understand your meaning, as stated in your post.

          And you said:

          “By the same token, I hear a lot less about the value of bi-partisanship from Pelosi, Reid, et al. now than I did during that same timeframe. If that comment insulted you, then again, I think you misunderstood it— “political junkie” though you may be.”

          I’m a bit nonplussed by your response…of course we’re not hearing Pelosi, Reid, et al calling for Bi-partisanship…they’re Democratic Leadership, they don’t need it. As stated many times by them, they’ll jam this HCR Bill through, the hell with the Republicans (paraphrasing). That’s why they want “Reconciliation”.

          I’m not sure to which time frame you are referring, none is mentioned in your post.

          I would be interested in knowing how I misunderstood you.

  4. I also voted for Obama and was excited at the opportunity and promise he and his administration could bring to Washington and our nation. My optimism and hope faded on a Friday evening this summer when he changed the discussion to a health insurance discussion and more recently has hung his entire thesis on the backs of insurance companies.

    It is easy to rally the public against the folks who collect more and more money and have the perception of paying little back. A rallying cry maybe but I expect more from our President. Where is his outrage over record profits in pharma and medical devices? Why aren’t they called on the carpet? If some these companies turned in the results that an Anthem, Aetna or United did there would be a good chance the board would oust their CEO.

    Anthem has been having their numbers scrutinized here in California and other than being told their increase is outrageous they haven’t been told it’s not justified. Blue Shield of California has just raised two of its most popular small group plans 55% and 76% and they are a not-for-profit.

  5. Alan,

    You say: “The Founding Fathers were aware of the dangers of this approach, consciously creating layers of checks and balances to prevent this outcome…”

    A major component of the checks and balances expected in Congress and the Administration (Presidency) is that no one party maintain a control of both Houses and the Administration. It does produce disastrous results when one party controls all as evidenced by the Republican Party when it last had full control and certainly has again evidenced itself since Obama took office in 2009.

    Our Congress is supposed to represent US, the electorate, their constituents, not just vote their own, private thoughts. Polls do provide a more accurate measure of the thoughts and desires of their constituents as a group versus those who constantly contact their representatives telling them what a great job they’re doing. Do you think that they read, think about, and respond to those constituents who don’t agree with what they’re doing? Of course they don’t. I have often written, called, and emailed my Congressional Delegation because I am not in agreement with their actions, and couldn’t count on one hand the number of times they’ve responded, because they don’t respond. Their staff doesn’t think it important. The Congressional Member doesn’t respond, only their staff does (unless you’re a major donor) any more than they read an 1800 page Bill, of which their staff read a portion and then wrote up an Executive Summary for perusal by the Member. I repeat: Polls do provide a more accurate measure of the thoughts and desires of their constituents as a group versus those who constantly contact their representatives telling them what a great job they’re doing.

    Good poll results are not hard to find. They are performed in every sector of society, are performed by good and objective polling companies who use the best possible methods of collecting this data, which puts shame to the methods used by the Members offices themselves when they are not using polling. In my opinion, based on years involved with NAHU, as yourself, working in the political trenches, as yourself, and lobbying, pro-bono, on a WA State level as well as a national level for NAHU, and in my experiences successfully running campaigns for WA State Legislators, polling is an essential tool that enables the Member to, at the least, have a good idea of the wishes tat are beating in the hearts and minds of those they are supposed to represent. Should we discount polling, negate its use by our Congressional Delegations, we will be subjected to legislation that becomes law based on the hearts and minds of the Congressional 535 Member Delegation only. The American people deserve to have legislation passed that is representative of the 200 Million estimated voting age persons in this country, or of the 303 Million persons in this country, but most definitely not of just 535 Representatives of those 303 Million people who are not using every tool at their disposal to allow them to represent, at least in theory, all of their constituents.

    And Alan, the majority of Americans are opposed to any HCR Bill passing into law in its current form. As a person who voted for Barack Obama, I am one of those 303 Million people.

    • Sorry, I meant to say that “As a person who voted for Barack Obama I am one of THAT MAJORITY who is opposed to the current proposed HCR Bill” (obviously, I am one of the 303 Million people who live in the US).

      This is a bad Bill that, if passed, will harm the vast majority, 85%, of Americans, in order to provide coverage to 15%, while pushing our already astronomical debt into the ionosphere.

      That is simply really bad math, in any language.

  6. As a broker, advocate of reform, and Obama voter to promote reform, I believe that behind the polls are issues, just as there are issues that Reform offers that you feel should be the number one priority.

    Certainly, as the Reform is perceived, it is almost incomprehensible due to its size; and when the 75% of the population that pays taxes, and are insured, considers adding 40 million newly covered individuals to our system, their fear of who is going to pay for it is reflected correctly in the polls.

    I wish I had confidence, in your third way, where the legislation gets passed, and after passage, adjusted to address cost reduction on bi-partisan basis. If the legislation does pass, such bi-partisan support is the only hope for a fiscally sound long term solution.

    A little leadership from President Obama from the getgo would have been very helpful, and this week, rather than castigating the insurance companies, he might have focused on how the solutions of the proposed legislation would be of help to all of us.

  7. Obamacare in my opinion is a sham. They requested the CBO grade it on 10 years of income and only 6 years of expenses. Why would they do that if it was not a sham? Very litte is done under this proposal that would affect the underlying costs of health care. They continually demonize the messenger as if squeezing out the small profit insurers make would solve the problem, and they never reveal the large market share controlled by non-profits. Obama continues to talk about insurers denying claims never mentioning the government plan, Medicare, has the highest denial rate of all. Alan, are these valid reasons to oppose this plan?

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