With Democrats regaining momentum due to an improved economy, a protracted Republican primary campaign and an unrelenting focus on social issues, the national dynamic is about to shift again. Similar to the 2010 midterm election, Republicans will look to use health care as the impetus to drive a wedge between the Democratic base and the moderate and independent voters who will again decide the outcome of this year’s vote. Thus far, Democrats have been far too willing to give them the ammunition needed to keep up sustained and coordinated attacks.
Perhaps the biggest political problem for President Obama is the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), a provision of the 2009 Affordable Care Act that would effectively gut Medicare and further alienate senior citizens who have tended to support Democratic candidates in the past. IPAB is comprised of a 15-member unelected and unaccountable Board without any true checks and balances by Congress. Above all, it will significantly jeopardize services for some of the most vulnerable citizens of our society, superceding a broad based entitlement reform package that is key to addressing our nation’s debt challenges. Put simply, it’s a dangerous shortcut in place of more meaningful, pro-growth reform.
Based on recent events, it appears that momentum for IPAB repeal has reached a critical mass, potentially leaving the president isolated from his own party on a major health care issue with little political cover. On Tuesday, a bipartisan bill sailed through the Energy and Commerce Committee on a voice vote with no Democratic opposition. By most estimates, the House will likely pass it later this month.
Vulnerable Senate Democrats and Republicans would benefit greatly from a vote that shows they are in line with mainstream America. With Harry Reid having been unwilling to bring to the Senate floor a bill that forces Democrats to take a tough vote on the issue, IPAB repeal sure looks like a political no-brainer. The final House vote in a few weeks will likely be a strong bipartisan statement in favor of eliminating IPAB, and Republican Senator John Cornyn, the sponsor of the bill in the Senate, has already begun calling for a vote there. With one bold stroke, Reid can deliver a major bipartisan policy victory for his caucus and at the same time defang the health care arguments that will be made by Republican Senate challengers this fall.
Without question, both Republicans and Democrats have significant vulnerabilities on the health care issue. House Republicans lost seats in special elections last year due to Ryan’s wildly unpopular 2012 budget plan, while Democratic support of the Affordable Care Act led to dozens of incumbents losing their seats in 2010. Policymakers never give voters much credit, usually to their detriment. But voters, especially senior citizens, have a strong sense of where the country is heading. And regardless of the polarized rhetoric, we are largely a centrist nation that expects middle of the road governing and pro-growth solutions. One need look no further than the dramatic elections of 2010 for the most recent example of voters extracting a political price from elected representatives who have strayed too far (worth noting: seniors favored Republicans by 21 points compared to four years earlier).
Repealing IPAB is a win-win for Democrats and Republicans. It would show the country that Washington can rise above politics and achieve policy results in a bipartisan manner, while also demonstrating that Obama is truly the “adult in the room.” As the electoral map shapes up to be much different than 2008, the president can show his base that he is serious about health care reform while also appearing a pragmatic solutions-seeker to independents in critical swing states. Admitting IPAB was a mistake could help neutralize the health care issue, refocus the nation’s attention on economic issues and help deliver the senior vote.
All of this at a time when neither side can afford anything less.
Douglas E. Schoen is a political strategist, Fox News contributor, and author of several books including the forthcoming “Hopelessly Divided: The New Crisis in American Politics and What It Means for 2012 and Beyond” (Rowman and Littlefield). Follow Doug on Twitter @DouglasESchoen.