Just over half of Americans likely to vote in next week’s midterms want the next Congress to repeal this year’s health care overhaul if Republicans gain power on Capitol Hill, according to a new poll, a dramatic rebuke to a sitting president and freshly minted statute.
Fifty-one percent of voters most likely to vote support taking the new health care law off the books if the GOP takes the House and Senate, or either, while 41 percent oppose repeal, according to the latest Society for Human Resource Management/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll, conducted with the Pew Research Center.
Those results are part of an overall hit-and-miss response Republicans draw from those surveyed about the party’s broader agenda.
Among registered voters, 49 percent side with repeal in the event of Republican success next Tuesday, breaking down to a solid 81 percent among members of the GOP, 53 percent among independents and just 23 percent of Democrats.
That dynamic — the majority of next week’s likely electorate standing directly opposed to President Obama’s cornerstone legislative achievement — points to the challenge Democrats face in stemming this year’s GOP tide, and how difficult it has been for the party in power to explain one of its toughest votes.
Their dilemma was on display as recently as Sunday, when West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin, a Democrat who supported the law but is now running in a tight race for Senate, said he would have opposed it had he known how far-reaching the bill was. The governor, who remains very popular among West Virginia voters, has been portrayed by his Republican opponent, John Raese, as being a rubber stamp for Obama. When polling started to show the race tightening, Manchin changed his tune on the law. Manchin made his remarks on “Fox News Sunday.”
While stripping the entire health care statute appears unlikely, particularly with the likelihood that Obama would veto such a move, Republicans have said they would like to strike certain provisions of the law, such as the mandates that individuals procure coverage and that employers provide it.
Democrats argue that those elements of the complicated law are tied to its more popular features such as guaranteed coverage for pre-existing conditions.
Up against a likely veto, even if such repeal measures pass Congress, Republicans could try end-runs that nibble at the law, like handcuffing it through appropriations or stopping the IRS’s ability to impose the tax penalties.
Separately, 20 states are pressing ahead with a federal lawsuit aimed at declaring the law unconstitutional because of the individual mandate and the Medicaid expansion’s burden on states to increase their own programs under a requirement to extend coverage to more low-income people. That suit is one of roughly a dozen suits targeting the law, which Obama signed in March.
While Republican senators or Senate candidates have been less concrete in their policy pronouncements, and stand to absorb a considerable number of tea-party candidates poised to pick up seats, the House GOP is pushing its “Pledge to America,” an echo of the “Contract with America” that former Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., brandished along the way to the 1994 Republican takeover of the House when Gingrich became speaker.
A number of elements of the “Pledge” dealt with questions polled in the Congressional Connection survey, including health care repeal and the permanent prohibition of publicly funded abortions.
Many of these pillars of the Republican agenda have failed to gain much traction with the public. Just 42 percent of likely voters, for instance, want GOP gains on Capitol Hill to lead to permanently extending Bush-era tax cuts for families whose annual income exceeds $250,000, while 52 percent oppose the extension.
The same percentage supported new federal laws that imposed greater restrictions on abortions, while 51 percent disapproved of passing new laws restricting abortion.
“It’s a mixed view of the [Republican] proposals that have been talked about — some positive some negative,” said Carroll Doherty, associate director at the Pew Research Center.
Voters, too, provided a warning to any overly eager Capitol Hill Republicans who might be thinking about using the next couple of years sharpening their subpoena skills for use against Obama’s administration, possibly emblematic of the popular mandate for policymakers to focus on the economy and creating jobs. Fifty-four percent of likely voters disapproved of “major investigations of the Obama administration,” 13 points higher than those who approved of conducting such probes.
House Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who stands to take over the House Oversight Committee under a GOP speaker, has reportedly said he will zero in on pensions, Medicare waste, paring back the U.S. Postal Service, and abuses at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Among the sample of registered voters, 62 percent of Republicans wanted the investigations, while 41 percent of independents, and 27 percent of Democrats said they would approve of such investigations.
The general public was less likely to disapprove of the investigations into the White House, with 49 percent opposing and 42 percent in favor. Still, those numbers were starkly less supportive of the inquiries than those from a survey taken at the same point in President George W. Bush’s second term, when 51 percent approved of Democrats’ conducting such investigations of the administration and 47 percent disapproved.
Voters most likely to vote steadily supported increased oil and gas offshore drilling in U.S. waters. Increased drilling is a prime GOP answer to concerns over fuel prices and American reliance on oil imports, with the attendant geopolitical complications. Fifty-nine percent favor more drilling, while 35 percent opposed it. Republicans in the registered sample were twice as likely as Democrats to favor expanded drilling, with independents almost exactly in the middle.
Freezing all government spending except in national security accounts proved unpopular, with exactly half of likely voters disapproving of that savings measure, and 44 percent supporting it. GOP and Democratic feelings on the issue were nearly precise mirror images of each other.
One GOP plank, which Obama last week labeled a “nonstarter,” that got a backing from likely voters was a plan to alter Social Security by allowing younger workers to channel their money instead into private investment accounts. Fifty-one percent approved of that, while 38 percent opposed the idea.
Unsurprisingly, that idea, which Bush stumped for early in his second term before abandoning it in the face of intense Democratic and public opposition, fared better among Republicans and independents, who approved it at 67 percent and 58 percent, respectively.
Perhaps due to the policy question’s complexity, or even to lingering confusion traceable to the starkly different scenarios painted during Bush’s 2005 push for privatizing Social Security, 12 percent of likely voters said they didn’t know whether they wanted the shift toward privatization or refused to answer the question. Twelve percent of registered Republican voters delivered that answer, along with 10 percent of registered independents and 15 percent of registered Democrats.
The electorate was narrowly divided, with 46 percent in favor and 48 percent opposed, over whether there should be a constitutional amendment blocking U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants from automatically being American citizens.
The survey of 1,006 adults was conducted October 21-24. The margin of error for the overall sample was 4 points. The margin of error for the 846 registered voters was 4.5 points, while the error margin for the 588 likely voters was 5 points. Likely voters estimates were based on a three-question turnout scale.
This article appears in the October 26, 2010, edition of NJ Daily.