House Democrats Get The Yips

November 20, 2013

Who is to blame for the epic failure of the website? Republicans, of course. At least, that's what President Obama claimed on a teleconference call Monday sponsored by Organizing for Action, his grass-roots advocacy group. Mr. Obama told the 200,000 supporters who dialed in that "obviously, we haven't been getting a lot of cooperation from the other party."

So is this supposed to mean that House Speaker John Boehner wrote the faulty code for the website, and Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell drafted the dozens of speeches in which the president promised that Americans could keep their health plans?

No matter. For the president and key Democratic supporters, the website rollout was a glitch that should not detract from a wondrous and politically potent health-care overhaul.

Just ask Democrats like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who declared on Sunday's "Meet the Press" that Democrats will proudly "stand tall" with the president in defense of ObamaCare. Or David Plouffe, the president's former senior adviser, who insisted on "This Week With George Stephanopoulos" that it's an "impossibility" Republicans will run successfully against ObamaCare next year or in 2016. Or pollster Stan Greenberg, who told me last week that the law is increasingly popular.

These claims are delusional.

Consider that in July 2010, four months after the Affordable Care Act passed, the Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll found that 50% of adults had a favorable opinion of the law, and 35% had an unfavorable opinion. Three years later, in Kaiser's Oct. 17-23 poll, 38% were favorable and 44% were unfavorable.

Similarly, according to an ABC/Washington Post survey in March 2010, 46% supported the health-care changes enacted that month while 50% opposed them. By this Nov. 17, the ABC/Washington Post poll found 40% supported the federal law, while 57% opposed it.

As to standing tall with the president, consider what Americans have said when asked about candidates who support the law. In July 2010, 39% were more likely to vote for a candidate who supported ObamaCare, while 37% were less likely, according to the ABC/Washington Post poll. This month, 21% are more likely while 37% were less likely. In red states carried by Mitt Romney, 46% say they are more likely to oppose a candidate who backs the law while only 15% say they are more likely to support him. This is terrible news for those seven Democratic senators up next year in states won by Mr. Romney.

Even in blue states carried by Mr. Obama in 2012, 31% of voters are more likely to oppose a candidate who backs the health law while 25% are more likely to support them. All this explains the actions of 39 House Democrats who broke ranks with the White House on Friday to vote for a GOP proposal to allow people to permanently keep their health plans if they like them, never mind ObamaCare.

Among them were eight of the nine Democrats who represent districts carried by Mr. Romney. Two others are running for the Senate in purple states. Three represent districts carried by Mr. Obama but won re-election themselves with less than 50%.

Five are Illinois congressmen facing re-election without a home-state presidential candidate on the ballot. Four of these represent districts that had Republican congressmen before 2012. Two are from Oregon, where Democrats worry about the fallout from a state-run exchange website on which no one has been able to purchase a private insurance plan. And one is from a Florida district represented by a Republican until last year.

Another six to peel off from the president are Californians. Several of them could face tough races in the state's new electoral system in which everyone runs in the same primary with the two top vote-getters going into the general election, regardless of party. Most of the other 12 Democrats are in swing districts that could be at risk next fall with strong GOP challengers.

Mr. Obama and his closest congressional allies seem blind to this. They keep telling the public to look at the law's fantastic benefits. But these benefits have failed to move public opinion in the president's direction.

Instead, support for the president and his law is in free fall, with approval for ObamaCare at 31% (down 12 points in a month) and the president's job approval at 37% (down nine points since October) in a Nov. 18 CBS poll. The Democrats in Congress who voted for it could well experience something very similar next November.

A version of this article appeared November 21, 2013, in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline House Democrats Get the Yips and online at

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