Rock, hard place

ROCK, HARD PLACE…. The new AP/GfK poll (pdf) includes some discouraging numbers for the White House, with President Obama’s approval rating at 50%, and a majority disapproving of his handling of health care. Not terribly surprising, and obviously subject to change, but not what West Wing officials want to see, either.

But there’s one especially striking result in the poll. Eric Kleefeld noted:

This other question should concern Democrats: “If President Obama and the Democrats in Congress are unable to win support from Republicans to pass a health care plan this year, what should they do?” The numbers: Go ahead and pass a bill without Republican support, 28%; Keep trying until they are able to make a deal with the Republicans, 66%.

Looking at this number, it’s clear that the burden on Obama and the Democrats at this point is to demonstrate clearly through tonight’s speech and the following events that Republicans won’t make a deal. If that case isn’t made, there really might not be enough political capital to withstand the potential fallout from a Dems-only bill.

Quite a conundrum, isn’t it? This is only one poll, and other surveys may offer different results, but these numbers suggest Dems have limited options when it comes to working towards “bipartisanship.”

On the one hand, they can’t actually work with Republicans towards any policy solutions. The GOP opposes reform, thinks Americans already have too much insurance, would prefer to privatize Medicare, etc. Genuine outreach to Republicans has produced nothing, least of all negotiations in good faith. Dems can’t “keep trying until they are able to make a deal with the Republicans” and pass anything resembling a good bill. The GOP’s scorched-earth crusade to destroy Democrats won’t allow it.

On the other hand, voters actually seem to care about the failed, discredited minority’s support for an initiative it’s always opposed. The AP poll suggests there may be actual negative consequences for blowing off opponents of reform and passing meaningful legislation.

So, what to do? My suggestion would be to pass a good bill anyway, with confidence, sell it well, and go with the expectation that success begets success. Once the legislation is in place, it might also make sense to take the offensive and make it clear that the right-wing congressional minority, for purely partisan reasons, refuses to even consider common-sense reforms. In other words, Dems to “keep trying until they are able to make a deal with the Republicans” is to do nothing — the one thing most agree is not an option.