8 a.m. ET: How bad is President Obama's health-care message problem, and can it be fixed this late in the game?
The new NBC News poll paints a sobering picture for the administration. While the topline data is similar to what the same survey found last month -- narrow pluralities disapprove of Obama's handling of health care, and think his plan is "a bad idea" -- the numbers showed significant confusion over what the primary Democratic reform plans would and wouldn't do. "Majorities in the poll believe the plans would give health insurance coverage to illegal immigrants; would lead to a government takeover of the health system; and would use taxpayer dollars to pay for women to have abortions — all claims that nonpartisan fact-checkers say are untrue about the legislation that has emerged so far from Congress," according to NBC. "Forty-five percent think the reform proposals would allow the government to make decisions about when to stop providing medical care for the elderly."
The persistence of those misconceptions about health-care reform and the White House's semantic dance in recent days over whether it wants a public insurance option illustrate the administration's dilemma going forward. Before Obama can rally support for his vision of reform, he has to make sure voters -- and the press -- actually understand what he's proposing. As of today, they don't. That explains why, as the Wall Street Journal writes this morning, Obama "will likely shift his pitch in September ... to talk more about the moral imperative to provide health insurance to all Americans." The revised approach reportedly will include more speeches, fewer town halls and redoubled efforts to sort fact from fiction.
The new message strategy may be accompanied by a new legislative strategy. The New York Times reports that congressional Democrats "are increasingly focused on drawing support for a final plan from within their own ranks" rather than negotiating with Republicans, whom they view as unlikely to cut a deal. Whether the majority really plans to go it alone, or whether this story (note the Rahm Emanuel quote) is just a negotiating tactic remains unclear. The Washington Post notes that Obama, "in search of new momentum," plans to talk Thursday "with thousands of his most loyal supporters in a nationwide 'strategy call' hosted by Organizing for America."
But can a wholesale shift in strategy still work at this point in the debate? Jonah Goldberg argues that the administration has been "astoundingly incompetent" in selling health care, and that complaints about Republican tactics are "monumentally, incandescently lame coming from a party that controls Washington." Writing on the White House's apparent desire to de-emphasize "bending the cost curve" on health care in favor of more emotional appeals. Mickey Kaus suspects "they've already lost the public opinion battle for the near future. If they now need public opinion to pass the bill in the fall, they aren't going to pass a bill. It turns out you may only get one chance to roll out a giant legislative initiative." But Noam Scheiber is more optimistic, even making the case that liberals' complaints about the White House dropping the public option has helped the White House by pulling "the debate's center of gravity" back to the left, so "Obama now looks like the centrist voice of reason instead of an over-ambitious lefty."
If it's any consolation to Democrats, the public doesn't think any better of the GOP when it comes to health care. The NBC poll found that just 21 percent of approved of the way Republicans in Congress are handling health care, while 62 percent disapprove. That raises the question of whether the minority's current strategy of incessant criticism without offering a viable alternative will really accrue to its benefit. Jon Kyl defended Republicans' tactics Tuesday, explaining that Americans believe "no matter how bad things are, Congress can always make things worse."
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