More information means more support

MORE INFORMATION MEANS MORE SUPPORT…. Public opinion on health care reform has been shaped in large part by right-wing advertising, public anxiety and confusion, and major media outlets that aren’t especially good at helping news consumers separate fact from fiction. As a result, the current push for comprehensive reform has come under intense attack — just like every other major attempt at health care reform over the last century, each of which was derailed by lobbyists and scare tactics.

With that in mind, pay particular attention to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s latest research. It notes that Americans are evenly divided in their feelings about the reform proposals. But the report show that support for the plan grows when Americans actually learn what’s in it.

A significant majority of the respondents said they were more likely to support the bill when the following features were described: tax credits for small businesses that want to offer coverage to their employees, health insurance exchanges, the elimination of insurance denials based on pre-existing conditions, help in closing the Medicare “doughnut hole,” and a tax hike on couples making more than $1 million a year to pay for the changes in health care.

Many Americans remain unfamiliar with key elements of the major bills passed by the House and Senate. Among the least known elements of the legislation is that the Congressional Budget Office has said health care reform would reduce the deficit. Sixty percent expect the legislation to increase the deficit, but almost as many, 56 percent, said that reducing “the federal deficit by at least $132 billion over 10 years” would make them more supportive of the health care proposal.

This is hardly unprecedented. Over the summer, in the middle of the right-wing freak-out, a NBC/WSJ poll found that 36% of Americans approved of the plan. When the plan was actually described, support jumped to 53%.

So, what we have here is … a failure to communicate. Americans don’t like the proposal, until they learn what the proposal actually entails and realize the scare tactics aren’t true. (“Wait, you mean there are no death panels and this isn’t a government takeover? Well, in that case….”)

The importance of this cannot be overstated.

Yesterday, DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) told Greg Sargent that the Senate bill may have been irrevocably tarnished, making it “unacceptable in its current form to many voters,” and leaving House Dems unwilling to pass it.

But this is based on faulty assumptions. The House could pass the Senate bill, make changes through reconciliation, and get rid of measures like the Nebraska Medicaid deal through a freestanding bill. Van Hollen’s instincts are backwards.

The point is, public perceptions can change — if Democrats give success a chance. The polls are discouraging, but failure, weakness, and delays won’t improve matters. Van Hollen’s message, in a nutshell, is, “We can’t deliver on the most important piece of legislation in a generation because Republicans lied to the country; we can’t overcome that; so we’ll have to shape our policy accordingly.”

That’s madness. That’s weakness. That’s electoral suicide.

Again, what I’m suggesting is that they give success a chance. The polls are far more likely to recover if lawmakers do what they said they would do, pass the most important domestic policy legislation in generations, reap the rewards of a historic victory, and then get out there and sell their handiwork — making clear to the country that the scare tactics were wrong. Once the bill is signed, the media won’t just have a major signing ceremony to cover, but there will be plenty of reports about what the new law does and does not do — “How the new health care law affects you” — which would further help debunk the myths.

Van Hollen thinks the public has soured on the plan. There’s ample evidence to support that. But Americans feel a lot better about the plan when they learn what it is, and they’re far more likely to learn what it is if it passes.

Dems can either deliver or break their promise. They can either help Americans who need support or let them suffer. They can either help turn the polls around or watch them fall further. They can either prove their ability to govern or prove themselves inept. They can either satisfy the expectations of those who elected them or demoralize those who are counting on them. They can either watch the media cover their once-in-a-generation breakthrough or watch the media scrutinize a fiasco for the ages.

They can either look like victorious heroes who remained strong when the going got tough or they can look weak.

They can either fix a broken system and save lives or watch a dysfunctional system get considerably worse.

They can either succeed or fail.

How is it not obvious that Dems need to pass … the … damn … bill?