Throughout the primary campaign when it was an issue I argued against including an individual mandate in health care reform. It does makes it easier to write a bill eliminating exclusions for pre-existing conditions if there is a mandate to prevent people from gaming the system, but there are many other ways around this problem.
What supporters of the mandate failed to understand is that such government requirements greatly magnifies potential for opposition to health care reform. To be accepted by a majority, any health care reform plan needed to provide assistance to those who desired it without being seen as interfering with others. Even though Republicans initially supported the mandate along with most Congressional Democrats, this has now become an issue which could backfire against the Democrats.
David Weigel believes that Firedoglake, a liberal blog which opposes the bill, is paying for polls to undermine Democrats whose seats are in trouble. Questions include:
Under one proposal, if a person does not carry health insurance from a private insurance company, they would be fined up to 2% of their income. Is this fair, or unfair?
Nate Silver commented more on the polling and Weigel concluded:
The question, raised by Nate Silver and others: Is Firedoglake trying to scare vulnerable Democrats into retirement in order to kill health care reform? All indications point to “yes.” I’m hearing that FDL will conduct more polls in vulnerable Democratic districts, based largely on this chart of the “top 20 Democrats who could lose their seat over health care vote[s]. Snyder was at the top of that list, posted by FDL’s Jane Hamsher on Jan. 6. (One irony: Snyder is a fairly progressive member of Congress, and not a member of the Blue Dogs.)
Tension between FDL and some other progressive sites has increased since the Senate’s health care compromise took shape–Hamsher has campaigned aggressively to “kill the bill.” A month ago she predicted that “left/right populist outrage” would do so, and she hasn’t slowed down since.
Liberals can question Hamsher’s actions. It is certainly possible that killing the bill could lead to even worse results than a flawed bill which might still be improved upon. Nate Silver has a point that, “The survey fails to provide context about the individual mandate, and arguably biases the respondent against it through its choice of question wording and question order.”
Despite this, the fact remains that including an individual mandate decreases the chances of passing health care reform along with increasing the potential for losing seats in 2010. Democrats need to consider how this plays into the often distorted picture of them generally painted by Republicans. Independents who rebelled against the policies of the authoritarian right in recent election cycles, and who were willing to accept bigger government involvement to help those who desire help, can only view coercive government mandates as reason to question whether Democrats are any better.
It is rather late in the process but changes can still be made. Obama should go on television and admit he was wrong for changing his position and going along with Congress on the mandate and that he hears the popular objections to the current health care plan. I believe that many of the independents who supported Obama last year would respect such an admission and back him. This might also provide momentum for support of an improved version of the health care plan and deny the Republicans the ability to win by campaigning against much-needed improvements in the health care system.