The Acceleration of Disgust
It took the Democrats 40 years--from the slim majority they took in both houses of Congress after mid-term elections of Dwight Eisenhower's first term until Bill Clintons' presidency--to become so out of touch, entrenched, and in some cases corrupt, that they were swept out of power. It took the Republicans just 12 years to achieve a similar level of voter dissatisfaction. And now the Democrats have gone and one-upped the GOP again, getting swept from control of the House after just four years. That's going to be a tough one to beat.
It's easy to understand voter's disgust with the state of government, but it's hard to see a way out of it--particularly since the result of the most recent election was probably to further solidify the partisan divide. The most liberal Democrats in safe districts tended to keep their seats while many centrist or conservative Democrats lost theirs, while the Republicans are internally divided and often rightward looking because of the ascendance of the Tea Party.
Now the dance begins. Republicans that campaigned on a promise to "repeal Obamacare" have to make some show of trying to fulfill their promise. Make no mistake--such an effort cannot succeed. But moving toward a full House vote on repeal will be a priority. (Actually, the promise from Republican leadership is to "repeal and replace," but I'd be surprised if anyone in the GOP makes more than a token effort to put forward any serious alternative to the Affordable Care Act.)
Privately, most Republicans are probably relieved. They can make a show of attempting repeal, note that their good faith efforts were thwarted by a Democratic Senate, and turn it into an issue for 2012. Actually repealing healthcare reform, on the other hand, would open them up to a huge amount of controversy that could be potentially spun into some seriously bad PR two years from now. The mid-term elections didn't represent any fundamental realignment of American politics of the sort Karl Rove claimed in 2002; they are the product of disgusted citizens flipping back and forth between the only two channels available when they really wish they could just turn the set off.
But the ACA, while widely misunderstood, is not actually as unpopular as some would have you believe, at least outside the crowd the clings to stories about "death panels." Voters in recent polls seem to be split about 50-50 on whether they want reform repealed or not, which is a dangerous margin if your goal is to tear something down and not build much back in its place. (And I say this as someone with serious misgivings about the ACA).
Meanwhile, we're going to see a lot of administration officials pulled in to testify and maybe some turnover in the leadership of healthcare agencies. Someone will be made to squirm over taxpayers paying $93,000 per course for Dendreon's Provenge and other deemed extravagances of government healthcare. Nothing substantive will change.
Come to think of it, it all sounds depressingly familiar.
Read the BioPharm Executive online newsletter November 2010.
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More By Karl Thiel