Here's a crucial fact that should not be obscured by the ballyhoo surrounding the shift in control of the House: Most of the Republicans who won last night got a lower percentage at the ballot box than the percentage of Americans who support the new health care law's requirement that insurance companies cover people regardless of pre-existing medical conditions.
That's why yesterday was hardly a repudiation of the health care law.
Furthermore, this election was clearly dominated by voter worries about the economy and jobs. Only 19 percent of voters named health care as their top concern, a distant second to the 61 percent most focused on the economy, according to CNN. There were winners and losers among both supporters and opponents of health reform. For example, more than half of the 34 Democrats who voted against the health care legislation still lost their races.
After a wildly toxic political debate over the issue, people are split over the larger question of "reform" and key components of the law enjoy overwhelming public support. Specifically, over the last several months, even as the public has been divided on reform, two-thirds of Americans have supported the outlawing of pre-existing condition exclusions (Anzalone Liszt Research poll conducted for the Herndon Alliance of 1,000 2010 likely voters, conducted April 19-25, 2010. Margin of error +/-3%). For example, while a recent New York Times/CBS poll showed the public split over on the new law, only one-quarter of repeal supporters stuck with their position when told repeal would mean that insurance companies would no longer be required to cover people with medical conditions or prior illnesses.
This is the reality even after a contentious political season marked by an unprecedented deluge of attack ads that spread one lie after another about health reform. In fact, opponents of the new law spent $108 million since March to advertise against it - six times more than supporters.
That's something members of the new Republican majority will have to navigate as they square real-world legislative proposals on health care (if they have any) with their campaign rhetoric about repeal. They may try on Day One to repeal the health care law's individual mandate, but they can't do that without also throwing out the many new consumer protections, including the prohibition on insurers denying people care simply because they're sick or ending lifetime limits on coverage. Both of those provisions are more popular with the American public than the Republicans are.
The Republicans also talk about de-funding the law, interfering with its implementation and holding endless oversight hearings to gratuitously harass Obama administration officials. That's not progress, that's pointless, cynical politics.
We all know that the law is not going to be repealed, so the debate isn't going to be about what gets done--it will be about defining whose side members of Congress are on. For Republican repeal-mongers, that will be clear. They're for the insurance companies and against consumers.
The Republicans want to protect the excessive profits of the insurance companies and the bloated salaries of company CEOs, no matter how badly that hurts America's consumers. That's what repeal means. It means rolling back the clock and letting the insurance companies deny people coverage due to pre-existing conditions and drop people's coverage when they get sick. It means that small businesses will continue paying higher rates for health insurance than big corporations. It means repealing measures to cut down waste, fraud and abuse in Medicare. It means opposing much-needed relief in prescription drug costs for seniors. That's the Republican repeal agenda - the insurance companies get the profits and we get the shaft.
The American people don't want to give our health care back to the insurance companies. Repeal would cause real harm to real people. That may not matter to the Republican majority, but it matters a great deal to the people they now represent.