With the historic passage of a partisan health care insurance reform measure, the US Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid kept his most recent promise to pass the bill by Christmas. Differences with the House version means that the bill will almost certainly require reconciliation and another 60-vote “filibuster override” in the Senate in 2010.

Heritage.org lists the “significant differences” between the two bills as including differences on the idea of a public option, size and reach of new federal taxes, scope of the employer mandate, penalties for the constitutionally-questionable individual mandate, Medicare expansion, and taxpayer funding for abortion. More detail on the differences is provided in the link.

The House may compromise on taxes, employer mandates and, being members of a major political party and no stranger to government coercion, the individual mandate (a court test on this matter would not come until after the bill is signed into law). But the public option and abortion question could prove to be sticking points.

While the hard work continued over the last few months in the Senate, the American people found more and more to dislike with the Democrat’s plan. Pollster.com’s average of all polls shows nearly 52% of Americans oppose the plan and only 40% support it in December.

House Democrats may be a bit edgy in the new year; a mid-term election that historically loses seats for the majority party looms in November. National polls still show the Republicans with higher negative numbers, but Democrats will dismiss the anti-incumbent attitude at their peril. As MSNBC notes:

For the first time, Obama’s overall job approval rating has fallen below 50 percent (to 47 percent). In addition, for the first time since Sept. 2007, a plurality (45 percent) sees the Democratic Party in a negative light. And the percentage believing the country is on the wrong track (55 percent) is at its highest level in the Obama presidency.

“This survey underscores what I consider a dramatic and unmistakable change in the political landscape,” said Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who conducted the survey with GOP pollster Bill McInturff. “For Democrats, the red flags are flying at full mast.”

The same poll, commissioned by NBC and the Wall Street Journal, showed that the ambitious health care plan was a factor. While not mentioned in the MSNBC story, the Wall Street Journal did cite the statistic:

Democrats’ problems seem in part linked to their ambitious health-care plan, billed as the signature achievement of Mr. Obama’s first year. Now, for the first time, more people said they would prefer Congress did nothing on health care than who wanted to see the overhaul enacted.

The questions and statistics are provided in this pdf file, and they show that the public’s preference for Democrats over Republicans is down to 2 points, a slide from 9 points in April, and within the poll’s margin of error.

But its not a slam dunk for Republicans. The Tea Party movement, derided regularly in the media with porn-influenced smears, is more popular than either the Democrat or Republican party, with 41% of the people saying they were very positive or somewhat positive about the movement. That means Republicans may find themselves in trouble as well. The political winds seem to be favoring fiscal conservatives now but with a more limited government view. Libertarians hope that means eschewing government intervention in either the marketplace or the bedroom. Yet recent votes in New England and the mid-Atlantic states seem to favor the GOP in both leadership positions and social issues like gay marriage.

It’s clear that catching the anti-incumbent tide will take a lot of paddling for a candidate of either party. A Republican challenger doesn’t have the millstone of the 2009th Congress around their neck, and the burden of the Bush years is getting lighter all the time. Especially since the Obama policies regarding Iraq and Afghanistan seem mirror images of the pilloried Bush policies.

Political uncertainty is sure to fester in the minds of Democratic House and Senate members as they work to reconcile the two approaches to health insurance reform. The majority may feel lonely without any members of the opposing party to help share the blame in a bi-partisan manner. The echos of promises past may haunt them, as more details that some of the initial goals are not met. “Bending the cost curve in the right direction” is not the same as “reducing costs”, and providing “insurance for all” is reduced to “insurance for 60% of the uninsured.” The whispers of the estimated 20 million still uninsured probably won’t bother them, but the loud voices of the American electorate probably will. Will 60 votes be there for Sen. Reid in the spring?

Cross-posted to FrankHagan.com

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