Millions Spent on Healthcare Debate as Public Sours on Obama's Plan

The debate is awash in money, and Obama's plan is starting to drown.

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By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

It's going to be a long, hot summer for Members of Congress who are headed home to face constituents angry about healthcare reform.

Advocacy groups are engaged in an unprecedented level of spending in an effort to influence the vote, which is now expected to occur no earlier than September. There are big bucks in play, and no wonder: the U.S. healthcare system represents about 17 percent of the annual GDP. There's a lot at stake because, and the cliché is unavoidable here, healthcare is a life or death issue.

Through mid-July, according to the Campaign Media and Analysis Group, almost $10 million has been spent on ads in support of the White House's position on healthcare reform, double what the opponents of nationalized healthcare have spent. On top of that is the nearly $20 million spent by groups to stake out one position or another on the issue. And that's all before the August recess.

The spending appears to be having an impact. Polls out this week from The Pew Center and National Public Radio as well as the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey all show support for the Obama plan is diminishing. More Americans now oppose the nationalization of the healthcare system than support it, which is a damning figure on its own. The fact that much of the newfound opposition is coming from groups once thought "loyal to the cause" is especially troublesome for those who support what the Democrats in Congress are trying to do.

By a margin of three to one, 36 percent to 12 percent, reports Gallup, American seniors "are more likely to believe healthcare reform will reduce rather than expand their access to healthcare." The same poll shows that, by 39 percent to 20 percent, senior believe their own medical care "will worsen rather than improve."

The medical profession, which has been portrayed as universally embracing Obama's approach to reform, is also growing cool to the idea. The endorsement of the White House approach by the American Medical Association—which is not sitting well with many of its members—has been closely matched by seven state medical societies, three specialty medical associations, and two former presidents of the American Medical Association (together representing 43,000 physicians) who have gone on record in opposition to the so-called "public option" and to individual or employer mandates.

Instead, they are advocating in favor of the preservation of consumers' choice of health plan, patients' choice of physician, the right to privately contract, and the retention by the medical community of the right to determine what constitutes "quality care," as opposed to allow that vital function to be taken over by the government.

These are just a few of the changing dynamics in the healthcare debate into which Members of Congress are about to find themselves. And early indications are they are in for a rough time.

In what pro-Obama NBC News referred to as Cops Bamboozle Old Timers to Leave Feinstein's Office, staffers working for U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., had the police remove a group of retirees from the senator's office in West Los Angeles. The seniors, who wanted to talk with Feinstein about healthcare reform, would not leave when asked, even after sitting in her conference room "for more than six hours." Whichever side of the issue they were on these retirees exhibited a kind of intensity of commitment that the political class will not be able to ignore. And which is becoming the norm at town meetings across America.

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