December 2, 2010 3:31PM

How to Tell When ObamaCare Supporters Are Nervous

Supporters have gone to great lengths to make ObamaCare appear popular or to make repeal seem impossible. But this op‐​ed by my friend Jonathan Cohn made my jaw drop.

First, Cohn notes that the Senate recently voted down two efforts to repeal one of ObamaCare’s more unpopular provisions: the “1099 reporting tax,” which will place an enormous burden on small businesses. “Neither provision,” Cohn obliquely reports, “got enough votes to pass.” He concludes:

Critics of health care reform [sic] this week thought they would get their first win in the campaign to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Instead they got a lesson in just how politically challenging a wholesale repeal might be.

If opponents can’t even repeal the unpopular parts of ObamaCare, how can they repeal the whole thing?

Cohn neglects to mention a few important details. The reason neither amendment received “enough votes” is because, due to procedural considerations, each would have needed a 2/3 majority to pass — i.e., 67 votes. The Republican amendment actually received 61 votes. (The Democratic amendment received only 44 votes.) Reading Cohn’s account, though, you might think — and Cohn might think, or just want you to think — that both failed because they lacked majority support. In fact, the Republican amendment received a filibuster‐​proof majority. Even though it included $19 billion of spending cuts. And in a chamber with only 41 Republicans. (Another six arrive next month.) And the mere fact that Democrats offered an amendment to repeal part of ObamaCare is notable in itself. Cohn’s spin aside, the skirmish over the 1099 reporting tax shows that Democrats are divided and ObamaCare supporters are on the run.

Second, Cohn writes, “advocates of repeal have one extra liability that the law’s architects did not — a lack of majority support even before the wrangling begins.” As evidence, he cites a single Gallup poll from July 2009 that found 50 percent of the public supported “comprehensive health care reform.” Oy, where to begin. First, by Cohn’s own single‐​poll standard, he is just flat wrong. Advocates of repeal can point to the latest Rasmussen poll, which shows that 58 percent of adults support wholesale repeal. (Polls have clocked support for repeal as high as 61 percent.) Second, support for “comprehensive health care reform” is not the same thing as support for ObamaCare. If Gallup were to ask Cato employees whether they support comprehensive health care reform, my guess is that at least 50 percent would answer yes. (Presumably, Cohn would then write an oped titled, “Even Libertarians Support ObamaCare!”) Advocates of repeal have something else going for them, too: 17 months of consistent public opposition to ObamaCare.

No one is saying that getting repeal through the Senate is likely in the next two years. But the fact that supporters have to shade the truth like this suggests they are nervous.