Americans Oppose House GOP’s Obamacare Strategy

United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll finds people don’t want changes to health reform tied to government funding or the debt limit.

Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, is cheered as Republican members of the House of Representatives rally after passing a bill that would prevent a government shutdown while crippling the health care law that was the signature accomplishment of President Barack Obama's first term, at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Sept. 20, 2013. Applauding at left is Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., who led conservatives in persuading Boehner to accept a deal to link defunding the Affordable Care Act with the continuing resolution for government funding.
National Journal
Alex Roarty
Sept. 23, 2013, 5:13 p.m.

Re­pub­lic­ans, take note. Amer­ic­ans might not like Pres­id­ent Obama’s sig­na­ture health care law, but they don’t dis­like the massive pro­gram enough to risk a gov­ern­ment shut­down over ef­forts to un­ravel it.

Ac­cord­ing to the latest United Tech­no­lo­gies/Na­tion­al Journ­al Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion Poll, a sol­id ma­jor­ity of Amer­ic­ans said Con­gress should con­sider le­gis­la­tion that might delay or de­fund the pro­gram known as Obama­care sep­ar­ate from any gov­ern­ment fund­ing or debt-lim­it meas­ure.

The poll res­ults should stir angst among House Re­pub­lic­ans about the wis­dom of last week’s vote to link fund­ing for the Af­ford­able Care Act with a con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion to fund the gov­ern­ment. The Sen­ate is ex­pec­ted to strip the de­fund­ing meas­ure this week and re­turn a bill that only funds the gov­ern­ment. The clash could lead to a gov­ern­ment shut­down.

But in an en­cour­aging de­vel­op­ment for nervous GOP ap­par­at­chiks, if a shut­down oc­curs, the sur­vey showed the pub­lic is poised to blame Pres­id­ent Obama as much as House Re­pub­lic­ans. Many Re­pub­lic­an of­fi­cials wor­ried that voters would hold the GOP solely ac­count­able for the gov­ern­ment clos­ure.

Still, an over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of Amer­ic­ans prefer the Sen­ate’s ap­proach to the gov­ern­ment-fund­ing ne­go­ti­ations: 63 per­cent said Con­gress should “provide the fund­ing to keep the gov­ern­ment op­er­at­ing and deal with the health care is­sue sep­ar­ately.” Only 27 per­cent said “only fund the con­tinu­ing op­er­a­tions of the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment if Obama agrees to delay or with­draw his health care plan.”

Even Re­pub­lic­ans are skep­tic­al of the House GOP’s ap­proach. A ma­jor­ity, 51 per­cent, said Con­gress should keep the two is­sues sep­ar­ate, while 42 per­cent said a con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion should be passed only if Obama agrees to de­fund the health care law.

Re­pub­lic­an of­fi­cials and strategists have warned that link­ing the two meas­ures would be a polit­ic­al dis­aster for the GOP, re­in­for­cing im­pres­sions with the pub­lic that the party doesn’t work con­struct­ively to solve prob­lems. They worry it would re­peat the fal­lout of 1995 and 1996, when the shut­down led by then-House Speak­er Newt Gin­grich spurred Pres­id­ent Bill Clin­ton’s reelec­tion land­slide.

Not­ably, only one sub­set of Re­pub­lic­an-lean­ing groups was in­clined to push for the dis­sol­u­tion of Obama­care. White men without a col­lege de­gree said they pre­ferred to hold up gov­ern­ment fund­ing, 49 per­cent to 44 per­cent. Every oth­er Re­pub­lic­an group dis­agreed, and dis­agreed enorm­ously. White men with a col­lege de­gree, for ex­ample, pre­ferred keep­ing the is­sues sep­ar­ate by a mar­gin of 66 per­cent to 31 per­cent, a 40-point swing from their blue-col­lar brethren. More than 60 per­cent of white wo­men, both those with and without a de­gree, wanted to deal with Obama­care later.

The find­ings sug­gest the de­fund ef­fort is be­ing driv­en by the GOP’s most con­ser­vat­ive wing while more mod­er­ate ele­ments of the party’s co­ali­tion look on anxiously. Blue-col­lar white men are the most con­ser­vat­ive of the four edu­ca­tion-gender sub­groups — just 33 per­cent of them backed Obama in 2012, ac­cord­ing to exit polls, com­pared with 38 per­cent of white-col­lar white men.

Op­pos­i­tion to link­ing Obama­care with debt-ceil­ing talks is less severe, but non­ethe­less po­tent. A ma­jor­ity, 52 per­cent, say “in­crease the U.S. debt lim­it and deal with the health care is­sue sep­ar­ately,” while 31 per­cent say “only in­crease the debt lim­it if Obama agrees to delay or with­draw his health care plan.”

By a mar­gin of 48 per­cent to 33 per­cent, Re­pub­lic­ans say they should hold out on the debt-ceil­ing un­til Obama res­cinds the health care law. The plur­al­ity in­dic­ates a more con­gru­ous, if still far from united, front with­in the GOP. That ex­plains why many GOP strategists think a fight over the debt ceil­ing is smarter than one over gov­ern­ment fund­ing.

But in­de­pend­ents are more hos­tile to the idea — 51 per­cent of them want to wall off the Af­ford­able Care Act from the debt ceil­ing, and only 33 per­cent say the two meas­ures should be linked. For their part, 68 per­cent of Demo­crats want to keep them sep­ar­ate.

Re­pub­lic­ans can find a sil­ver lin­ing in the data on one ques­tion: whom voters would blame for a gov­ern­ment shut­down. Nearly as many named the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion (36 per­cent) as Re­pub­lic­ans (39 per­cent), while 17 per­cent said both would be equally to blame.

The split in sen­ti­ment was es­pe­cially stark along edu­ca­tion­al lines among white voters. A strong plur­al­ity of blue-col­lar whites, 45 per­cent, said they’d hold Obama ac­count­able, while just 29 per­cent tapped Re­pub­lic­ans. But 43 per­cent of white-col­lar whites said they’d blame Re­pub­lic­ans, more than the 36 per­cent who said the White House.

The poll, con­duc­ted Sept. 19-22, in­ter­viewed 1,003 adults over land­line and cell phones. It has a mar­gin of er­ror of  plus or minus 3.6 per­cent­age points.

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