If you’re sick and tired of all the shouting and bickering about health care reform, I’ve got some bad news for you. The issue will continue dominating the news for the next several weeks as Congress tries to decide which version of a health care reform bill it finally will adopt.
Even if something does pass and is signed by President Barack Obama before the end of the year, rest assured that health care reform will be mentioned quite often in Georgia’s election campaigns next year.
There was a major development in the issue last Saturday with the narrow passage of a health care bill by the U.S. House. All seven of Georgia’s Republican House members voted against it and it is safe to say that each GOP lawmaker absolutely hates this bill.
The House member who hates the measure the most could well be Rep. Nathan Deal of Gainesville. For Deal, that could a good thing. Health care reform gives him a red-meat issue he can throw out to the Republican base in next year’s primary election for governor.
Deal is campaigning hard for the GOP nomination but he still lags behind Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine in the early polls.
Oxendine has maintained that polling lead largely because of his success in appealing to the party’s Christian conservative voters. These are Republicans who oppose abortion, don’t like the trend of immigrants moving into Georgia, don’t believe Obama is a native-born U.S. citizen and support the idea that states can ignore federal legislation if they so choose.
Health care reform gives Deal a platform to make the case that he’s just as conservative as Oxendine on nearly all of those issues.
During the House debate over the health care bill, Deal appealed directly to voters who think "state sovereignty" trumps the authority of the federal government.
"What authority in the United States Constitution gives this Congress the right to mandate that every citizen must purchase a health insurance policy, and upon failing to do so shall be fined and possibly imprisoned?" Deal asked. "I think the answer to that question is there is no such constitutional authority."
Deal also raised the specter of undocumented immigrants getting health care benefits under the Democrats’ proposed plan.
"Make no mistake about it — illegal aliens will receive government-funded health care under this bill because all they are required to show is a Social Security number and a name," Deal said. "If you think identity theft is a problem now, just wait until this bill passes!"
Deal doesn’t need the health care issue to make his pitch to the "birthers" who believe Obama was really born in Kenya. He disclosed last week that he and several other House members will send a letter to the president asking him to release his birth certificate.
It’s difficult to say how much ground Deal can make up in the governor’s race by hammering the health care reform issue, but you can bet he’s going to try.
Health care reform will also be front and center in the re-election campaigns of two Democratic congressmen, Rep. John Barrow of Savannah and Rep. Jim Marshall of Macon.
Barrow and Marshall were among the 39 Democrats who voted against the health care bill in the House. They obviously think the vote will keep them in good standing among the conservative voters in their districts.
Their votes against the health care bill could also cause major headaches for Barrow and Marshall, however. Even in their conservative-leaning districts, there are thousands of Democratic voters who think health care reform is a good idea.
The more the two congressmen argue against health care reform, the more likely it is that a large portion of their Democratic supporters will become angry and discouraged. Discouraged voters tend to stay home on election day, which can be big trouble for an incumbent who needs his partisan base to get out and vote.
If Republican challengers want to have a shot at ousting either Barrow or Marshall, they should bring up health care reform at every opportunity and force the Democrats to denounce it. I have a feeling they will do just that.
Even if something passes and becomes law this year, you haven’t heard the last on the health care reform issue. Get ready to hear a lot more about it as the 2010 campaigns crank up.
Tom Crawford is the editor of Capitol Impact’s Georgia Report, an Internet news service that covers state government and politics. His column appears Wednesdays in The Times and on gainesvilletimes.com.