First Thoughts: Health care remains a tough sell

NBC/WSJ poll: Health care remains a tough sell for Obama White House… The older you are, the less you like it… But the more you know about the law, the more you like it… Obama addresses 5th anniversary of Lehman collapse, as well as perhaps the Great Disconnect… Larry Summers drops out of contention for Fed Chair… And wrapping Biden’s day in Iowa.

Linda Norman, right, and Joanna Galt, both from Florida, hold their banners during a "Exempt America from Obamacare" rally on the West Lawn of the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

*** Health care remains a tough sell: While Syria isn’t officially on the backburner yet, it’s now an issue that’s no longer consuming the Obama White House 24-7. But other potential problems remain, including keeping the government open after Sept. 30 and raising the debt ceiling by next month. Yet hanging over all of these budget debates is the implementation of Obama’s signature domestic achievement: the health-care law. And new numbers from our NBC/WSJ poll show that the law remains unpopular with the American public. Per the poll, 44% call it a bad idea, while 31% believe it’s a good idea, which is virtually unchanged from July’s survey. What’s more, by a 45% to 23% margin, Americans say the law will have a negative impact on the country's health-care system rather than a positive one. And 30% of respondents think it will have a negative impact on their families. Just 12% say it will be positive, and a majority -- 53% -- don't believe it will have an impact one way or another. We’ve said this before, and we’ll say it again: Health care’s unpopularity can be traced to the decision by the White House and its allies to allow Republicans to define it AFTER it was signed into law. Just how poorly has the White House messaged health care? Consider that 30% of Democrats say they don’t know enough about the law to have an opinion, and “only” 56% of Democrats call the plan a “good idea” So barely half of the president’s base calls health care a “good idea.” That’s a big problem.

*** The older you are, the less you it: The age segment of the population that’s most opposed to the health-care law? No surprise here: Seniors. Among those 65 and old, just 22% think the law is a good idea, versus 55% who believe it’s a bad idea. Among those 50-64, it’s 34% good idea, 46% bad idea. Among those 35-49, it’s 33% good idea, 49% bad idea. And among 18-34, it’s 31% good idea, 33% bad idea. Strikingly, however, the people who are most opposed are those who aren’t impacted much by the law, because they already qualify for Medicare. The silver lining for the Obama administration and Democrats is that young Americans -- who will continue to vote in elections for generations to come -- are the ones who are most open to the law. Then again, seniors are the folks who turn out in midterm elections…

*** The more you know about it, the more you like it: Here’s one more important finding from our poll: 34% say they don’t understand the law very well, and another 35% say they understand it only “some.” That's compared with 30% who understand it either "very well" or "pretty well." As it turns out, that 30% has more positive opinions about the health-care law (42% good idea, 45% bad idea), versus the 34% who don't understand it very well (17% good idea, 44% bad idea). The old GI Joe saying applies here, “Knowing is half the battle.” The White House has tried to start health-care education campaigns a few times, but to no avail. If they could actually sustain one of their campaign-style pushes on health care, these numbers suggest it COULD pay off. Interestingly, to show how uneasy the White House is about making pro-health care arguments, look at this new OFA TV ad. It’s a health care one-off that simply targets House GOPers on the budget. No effort is made in this ad to explain or sell health care.

*** Obama addresses 5th anniversary of Lehman collapse: At 11:40 am ET, Obama gives a speech at the White House’s Rose Garden to mark the fifth anniversary of the financial crisis’ start. On Friday, we wrote about the Great Disconnect -- how the economy has improved since then, but not for all Americans -- and Obama received a question about it in his ABC interview over the weekend. His answer: “That's why we made sure that we had a tax system that was a little bit fairer by asking people to- pay more at the top. That's what the Affordable Care Act … is about, is making sure that folks who have been left out in the cold when it comes to health care are able to get health care. That's why we strengthened the entire banking system.” But Obama then pivoted to the current budget debates on Capitol Hill. “There's no serious economist out there that would suggest that, if you took the Republican agenda of slashing education further, slashing Medicare further, slashing research and development further, slashing investments in infrastructure further, that that would reverse some of these trends of inequality.” And here’s another example of the Great Disconnect: “The gap in employment rates between America's highest- and lowest-income families has stretched to its widest levels since officials began tracking the data a decade ago, according to an analysis of government data conducted for The Associated Press.”

*** Why in Washington and not on the road? By the way, there was a time the Obama White House thought it wanted the president to mark this anniversary on the road somewhere, like, you know, on an actual Main Street -- to highlight those who have recovered since Lehman Brothers’ collapse -- but he’s holding the event in DC. It’s another example how the Syria debate handcuffed the president. This speech today won’t have nearly the same amount of impact on the political debate coming from the Rose Garden vs. say Elkhart, IN.

*** Summers drops out of contention for Fed chair: When Obama speaks on the economy, one subject will hover over the event: Larry Summers’ withdrawal yesterday as a candidate for Fed chair. Make no mistake, Summers was the White House’s top choice for the post, even though he wasn’t ever officially nominated. And the reason he pulled out is that he didn’t have the votes, especially from Senate Democrats. Summers himself acknowledged this fact in his withdrawal letter to the president. This now makes Fed Vice Chair Janet Yellen the default leading candidate. The question is if Obama will still pick her after the White House has been quietly making a not-so-subtle case against her. Yellen is the easier candidate to confirm at this point and the White House would like a united Democratic party on Capitol Hill as they go into the fall debates on budget. But the president was leaning toward Summers because he wasn’t sold on Yellen. Tim Geithner remains the president’s first choice, but Geithner has said no many times and his folks sent out word again over the weekend that he was still not interested. Don Kohn, a former No. 2 at the Fed is also under consideration.

*** Biden’s day in Iowa: Lastly, guess who was in Iowa yesterday? Vice President Joe Biden. Here’s the dispatch from NBC’s Alex Moe. “‘It’s good to be back in Iowa,’ Biden said standing in front of a massive American flag at the 36th annual Harkin Steak Fry. He continued, ‘It’s amazing, when you come to speak at the steak fry, a whole lot of people seem to take notice. I don't know why the hell that is. You’ve attracted the entire national press corps. I’ve never quite understood it, but I am learning.’” More from Moe: “The vice president spent a portion of his lengthly speech -- which one attendee remarked “sounded like a campaign speech” -– talking about the administration’s commitment to foster a prosperous and growing middle class. Biden also made a point to mention his leadership on gay marriage, calling it the ‘civil rights of our day.’ And he briefly touched on the ongoing conflict in Syria, vowing President Barack Obama would not tolerate the use of chemical weapons. ‘As I told the president of China, who I know well, Mr. Jinping. As I told Mr. Putin when I last had a conversation with, it is never, never, never ever been a good bet to bet against the American people.’” 

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