Republicans believe their war against President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul drive will be buttressed by two events mostly outside the president’s control: the election of a Republican governor of Virginia and the unavoidable necessity of raising the debt limit.
Treasury officials have privately informed lawmakers that a vote on the debt limit must occur before Congress leaves in December. Republicans believe that the $900 billion or larger increase will feed into voters’ concerns about the price tag of the health bill.
And Republican Congressional sources talk as if they already have the Virginia gubernatorial contest locked up. They stand ready to use a GOP victory in a moderate state carried by Obama to spook moderate Democrats whose support for health care reform is not a sure bet.
A Republican victory in a state Obama carried by 6 points and that currently has two Democratic Senators and a Democratic governor will be portrayed as the first judgment by voters on Obama’s agenda.
“When that election is over there will be a lot of Democrats saying, I could be next,’— one senior Senate Republican aide said. “They will draw a clear line from that race to health care. It will be a real wakeup call for many Democrats, and it will also slow down the process.—
Some Republicans believe Democrats initially sought to get the health bill to the president’s desk by Oct. 15 in order to avoid just such a scenario.
Polling this month has shown Republican Bob McDonnell anywhere from 8 to 14 points ahead of Democrat Creigh Deeds. Republicans also hope to chock up wins in the New Jersey gubernatorial contest and a special election in New York’s 23rd district — and then add them into the health care reform mix. The New Jersey race is a dead heat, while Democrats appear to have opened up a slim lead in the New York race.
But White House strategists are ready with their rebuttal.
“They certainly will try to make this argument,— one senior White House official said. “It’s traditional that the party that wins or loses will try to make it seem like a portent of national significance when these are very isolated races,— the official said. The aide pointed to a new ABC/Washington Post poll as a sign that support for Obama’s agenda is strengthening and support for Republicans and their “failed strategy— is in the tank.
The poll showed 57 percent of respondents support a public insurance option backed by Obama — the same percentage of those who approve of Obama himself — and only 20 percent of adults identify themselves as Republicans. But it also found only 45 percent support the broader health proposals being considered by Congress.
Republicans note that Deeds himself has linked the proceedings in Washington to the dynamics of the Virginia race.
“Frankly, a lot of what’s going on in Washington has made it very tough,— Deeds said earlier this month. “We had a very tough August because people were just uncomfortable with the spending. They were uncomfortable with a lot of what was going on, a lot of the noise that was coming out of Washington, D.C.—
And even some Democrats are touting the New York 23rd race as a referendum on the president.
“Support Bill Owens with a generous gift of $5, $10 or more before Friday,— President Bill Clinton wrote in a fundraising missive that was dispatched about two weeks ago. “With the world watching, this race will be seen as a referendum on President Obama’s agenda.—
The final health care floor debates are expected to be waged in December, the same month in which the Senate will have to act to raise the $12.1 trillion debt ceiling before Treasury finally empties its bag of accounting tricks for avoiding an increase.
Earlier this year, the House moved to raise the ceiling to $13 trillion.
“I think the reason they delayed the debt limit vote until December is the Democrats hoped to do health care first,— another top GOP aide speculated. “Why else go through all these gimmicks?—
The initial request to Congress by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner for an increase in the debt limit was made Aug. 7.
“When you have the debt debate, there will be nowhere for Democrats to hide, and health care will absolutely be pulled into that debate,— the first Republican Senate source said.
“Bring it— is the message White House officials say they have for the GOP.
“This is a party that has no credibility on that issue,— the senior White House official said. “If they want to talk about the last eight years of deficit spending, we’re happy to have discussion with them.—