If Democrats' signature effort to revitalize the economy failed to turn things around in voters' eyes, a constant focus on creating jobs may have been enough to help win those voters over again. Instead, Democrats embarked on a nearly year-long effort to overhaul the nation's health care system.
That overhaul, whether one supported or opposed it, contained types of legislative maneuvering that bring to mind comparisons with sausage-making. In the age of 24-hour cable news coverage, deals offered to Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) (The "Cornhusker Kickback") and Mary Landrieu (D-La.) (The "Louisiana Purchase") became fodder that fired up the Republican base.
After voters in Massachusetts expressed anger at the process by electing Republican Sen. Scott Brown, Democrats had to figure out new ways to get around a 41-member Republican conference willing to filibuster. That brought to mind obscure legislative practices, like "deem and pass" rules and the budget reconciliation process, that appeared to skirt easier to understand rules.
The bill passed on Sunday, March 21. Democrats were convinced their party would benefit from a fuller explanation of the bill's contents. But Republicans made effective arguments, pollsters said, that the health care reform overhaul contained lurking passages worthy of suspicion, from Sarah Palin's inaccurate "death panels" to the more widely accepted claim, advanced by virtually every Republican candidate running this year, that the bill represents an unwanted takeover of private health care plans by the federal government.
Democrats say their surveys showed the bill seriously hurt their party's appeal to key voters whose support they enjoyed in 2008. Seniors didn't trust the bill, which Republicans said would take $500 billion out of Medicare. And male voters subscribed to the overreach theory. Now, both groups are breaking heavily for Republican candidates.
Obama's party started off the 111th Congress facing some of the worst economic circumstances any incoming administration and Congress have faced. Their efforts to turn the economy around had a real and substantial impact -- it just wasn't as big, or successful, as voters expected. That hurt the Democratic camel; the party's efforts to reform the national health care system broke its back.Few can argue that the current Congress has been one of the most successful in decades. Democrats have passed financial regulatory reform and measures aimed at fixing student loan and credit card industries, as well as a host of jobs bills, virtually all over the objection of the Republican conference. But that success, and the Republican unanimity, has been the Democrats' downfall, and the Republicans' best one-two punch.