While perusing the internet blogosphere I came upon an interesting post by Sean Trende over at RCP. In it he posited that repeal of Obamacare in the short-term is near invincible for several reasons but one reason in particular stood out to me. The reason being that Healthcare may be an issue that many Democrats are willing to go down over (just look at how many did in 2010).
This of course brings up an even deeper and more interesting question. Why? Assuming Trende’s theory is true why would Democrats be willing to go down with the ship on Obamacare, ie. Healthcare reform. Now certainly there are many Democrats who are running away from the law yet many more sitting in Democratic leaning but not wave safe districts voted against the Upton bill arguing it would undermine the law. Perhaps they feel safe knowing the President would never back off defending his signature appointment.
To understand the Democratic Party’s deep fascination with Healthcare it might be illuminating to consider some history. Both parties have had a number of progressives in their ranks. For Republicans it was Teddy Roosevelt and Eisenhower (in his own way he was). Democrats have had Wilson, FDR and now Obama. But neither Roosevelt or Eisenhower were willing to go into or grow the entitlement state while FDR and Obama have gone full speed ahead with the idea. Heck, we can thank LBJ for giving us Medicaid.
FDR established Social Security and work programs like the TVA that exist to this day. Other elements of his New Deal package also still stand. LBJ gave us the “War on Poverty” and with it Medicaid, Medicare, and the origins of CHIP. Obama gave us, well, Obamacare. Just looking at these three Democratic Presidents we can see the party is rich with history on the welfare/entitlement state. Still, there were a number of Democrats that never agreed with this mentality. I speak of Southern Democrats and even Jimmy Carter. Keep in mind Southern Democrats were crucial in 93 and 94 in killing Hillarycare. Yet, when push came to shove in 2010 many Southern Democratic Congressmen and women voted for the bill (twice) and thus ensuring their political downfall.
I would posit that Healthcare is a signature issue to the Democratic Party, even its less progressive members, because the issue is connected to their party’s political history at a base level. Democrats cannot simply walk away from this and still call themselves Democrats. What would be the point? Might as well be an Independent or a Republican instead. I would also hazard a guess that Healthcare is linked to the party because of changing demographics (or steady).
Many of the Southern Democrats who voted for the bill were entrenched incumbents. More importantly though was that many of them resided in poor, majority-white districts where the law was originally thought to be a benefit. So perhaps some thought they could survive a wave, just as they did in 1994, and others thought they were taking care of their constituents. Democrats residing in safer, more urban districts likely voted for the law for many reasons. Among them one must assume was that it would help low-income individuals and single women and parents. Indeed, until recently these groups were some of the biggest supporters of the law.
Recent and past history as well as political context seems to only explain the Democratic fascination with Healthcare so much. All the reasons I have laid out for the Democratic Party’s obsession with Healthcare, history, context, public policy, I can poke holes in.
The answer might be more simplistic though. Just as Republicans have focused in on taxes and spending issues like a laser Democrats have done the same with Healthcare and to a lesser extent education. It is impossible from a 40,000 foot view to know how individual actors have shaped the Democratic Party’s views and actions on Healthcare but it seems to have driven the party to fight tooth and nail for reform.
Today they have that reform. Whether it is something Democrats are willing to fall on their sword over or abandon to fight the battle another day will be determined in the months ahead.