Massachusetts Message: Obama Must Drop Healthcare, Focus on Jobs

A pause on healthcare reform will be better in the end.

By + More

By Linda Killian, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

With Democrats in shock and disarray over how to respond to the Massachusetts Senate election, they should listen closely to what a Republican consultant learned from GOP winner Scott Brown's polling of Bay State voters. The Obama White House and Democratic leaders can talk all they want about Martha Coakley not being a good candidate and not running a good campaign but, "If they don't take this as a fork in the road to change directions then we're going to kill them in November," predicts the GOP consultant.

The vote for Brown was fueled by populist anger. Voters there and around the country believe Democrats in Washington have done more for Wall Street than Main Street and according to the GOP polling they wanted to "send a message to Washington" that the country is on "the wrong track."

People are concerned about jobs and the economy and they don't see the Democrats focusing enough on those issues.

"Republican polling shows [Democrats] should drop health reform and move on to the economy. People are completely furious and the Democrats are missing it," said the GOP consultant.

The Massachusetts result will buoy Republican spirits and encourage more good GOP candidates to run for Congress. There are eight Democratic House members who voted yes on health reform who didn't have opponents last fall who have them now and next week there will be 10 more in the same situation, he said.

If there is one thing members of Congress care about more than anything it is their own re-election.

It doesn't matter whether the Senate waits to seat Brown to vote on healthcare because following the Massachusetts result you can bet there are now not enough Democratic votes to pass healthcare as it is in the House or Senate.

Several weeks ago, before it was even clear what was happening in Massachusetts, a Democratic senator was quoted as saying "I've taken all the tough votes for Obama that I intend to take this term."

In his victory speech, the first thing Brown did was thank the independent voters who supported him. More than half of the registered voters in Massachusetts are unaffiliated with a political party--more than in the Democratic and Republican parties combined--and they made the difference in this election. Democrats should be extremely concerned about the disaffection independent voters are feeling right now.

Republican polling shows that 80 percent of voters support health reform which would reduce costs and focus on insurance reform, pre-existing conditions and portability. That's the scaled down plan Democrats should enact.

Health reform which focused on these issues could have passed easily months ago, probably with significant Republican support. But instead, the Democrats wanted it all--universal coverage and costly reform that contained lots of special deals for lobbyists.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who chairs the Senate Democrats' campaign committee and is plenty worried about November, released a statement Tuesday night which said "I have no interest in sugar coating what happened in Massachusetts. There is a lot of anxiety in the country right now. Americans are understandably impatient."

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), a leading health reform advocate said Tuesday night, "The only way to go forward is to take a step back. If there isn't any recognition that we got the message and we are trying to recalibrate and do things differently, we are not only going to risk looking ignorant but arrogant."

"I don't think it would be the worst thing to take a step back and say we are going to pivot to do a jobs thing" and include elements of healthcare reform in it, he said.

Appearing on MSNBC Wednesday morning presidential advisor David Axelrod said it was not an option to walk away from healthcare reform but added, "We have heard the voters and we will take that into account."

With the State of the Union coming up next week, President Barack Obama and his team had better figure out fast how to put healthcare behind them and focus on the economy and jobs. They need to let Americans know the president understands what happened in Massachusetts and what they are saying.

As unpleasant as this idea might be for him to contemplate, Obama needs to take a page out of the Bill Clinton playbook and emulate the 1996 State of the Union address in which Clinton famously declared the era of big government was over. Obama and the people around him are contemptuous of Clinton's propensity to follow polls and moderate his positions, but Clinton was able to beat the Republicans at their own game. Now it's time for Obama to do the same before it's too late.

  • Check out this month's best political cartoons.
  • Become a political insider: Subscribe to U.S. News Weekly, our digital magazine.
  • Follow the Thomas Jefferson Street blog on Twitter.