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Barnes: Obama's Already Lost the Health Care Argument

2:42 PM, Jul 24, 2009 • By FRED BARNES
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It's conventional wisdom now that Obama's health care initiative is in deep trouble. But that's wrong. It's in deep, deep, deep trouble. Again contrary to Washington wisdom, neither the cost of ObamaCare nor the squabble among congressional Democrats is the main reason. The biggest problem is average Americans. They dislike ObamaCare.

The new Fox News poll, conducted this week, captures the dimensions of the public's turnoff. The most compelling response was to this question: "Do you think the quality of health care for you and your family would be better or worse under the health reforms being considered?" Only 29 percent said better, while 45 percent said worse. That's an unusually harsh rejection of ObamaCare. It's similar to what polls found in 1994 when ClintonCare was being considered. That's a bad precedent for Obama.

Another question asked: "For you personally, do you think the health care reforms being considered would cost you money or save you money?" A whopping 58 percent said yes, it would cost them. A mere 24 percent said they'd expect to save money. This finding is devastating. It strikes at one of Obama's central arguments: that his plan would provide more care at less cost. It turns out this notion is not only illogical and counterintuitive, it's also a non-starter with the American public.

There's more bad news for Obama. A majority (58 percent) believe major health reform will increase the deficit. A larger majority (60 percent) say major reform isn't possible without a tax increase. Indeed 79 percent think their own tax bill will go up if ObamaCare passes. Again, what most Americans think is at odds with what the president has been telling them.

On the health reform legislation itself, 47 percent are opposed, 36 percent in favor. That's hardly affirmation. Should Congress pass health legislation this year or do nothing? To my surprise, 48 percent said do nothing (49 percent said pass something). Does Obama have a clear plan? Fifty-one percent said no and 43 percent said yes. I'll mention only one more poll result. Should a "government-run health insurance plan" be created to compete with private insurers? This, too, is a central issue, though Obama euphemistically calls it a "public" plan. Anyway, 48 percent are opposed, 44 percent in favor. Sorry, but here's one more poll result. If ill, would you rather be treated in a private health care system or a government system? Private won, 64 percent to 19 percent.

For what it's worth, here's what I conclude from the Fox News poll. 1) The public is smarter than we think. They know their health care. 2) A bill that's rejected this soundly has little chance of being enacted, and the congressional recess won't make things better. 3) Obama is not persuasive. He's been touting his plan for months as support for it dropped. He's lost the argument.