It was a lady in a bar that made me realize Democrats were in trouble in the midterm elections.
In February, my husband and I were in Austin, Texas, at the Saxon Pub waiting to see a local band. A middle-aged woman sitting next to us at the bar started telling us about her life. Long story short, she was divorced and deeply worried about losing her job and the health benefits it provided. She recently had shoulder surgery, which kept her out of work for a while and now it looked like she would need another operation.
She asked me about COBRA, which I explained. Then I said, "you have to hope health care reform passes," thinking she would nod in agreement. It was then being fiercely debated in Congress. But instead, she snapped back, "Well, we don't need a 2,000-page bill."
I was stunned. All this woman knew about health care reform was the size of the bill, which she didn't like one bit. She couldn't be bothered with the details — I guess Fox News wasn't feeding her any.
This is the level of ignorance the Democrats are up against. Health care reform was a signal accomplishment. When fully implemented in 2014, it will make all of our lives, especially my bar friend's, far more secure. No longer will we be tied to a job for the health benefits, or have to worry that a catastrophic illness will exhaust a lifetime insurance cap and bankrupt us. No longer will we be kicked off a policy after getting sick. No longer will health insurance be unaffordable or unavailable to someone with preexisting conditions.
On top of all that, the Congressional Budget Office says the program will trim $143 billion from the federal budget deficit over 10 years.
How are we not applauding this? Where's the credit?
The same can be said for sweeping financial reform. Republicans want to repeal it, returning us to the same deregulated, shadow system that allowed Wall Street's unfettered greed to nearly bring down the financial system a mere two years ago. They want to get rid of the new law's consumer financial protection bureau, which finally creates a government watchdog over the banks that are trying to rip us off. A call for repeal could only be considered an applause line in penthouse executive suites.
Republicans denounce Obama's auto industry bailout, even though the financial lifeline for General Motors and Chrysler worked, saving an estimated 1.1 million jobs. Where's the credit for that?
On taxes, Obama gave 95 percent of Americans a tax cut in his stimulus package, but only 8 percent know he's cut taxes while about 33 percent think he's raised them.
And on the deficit, it's true that Obama has had to exacerbate spending during this time of high unemployment, when the government is the employer and spender of last resort. But economists say the $787 billion stimulus helped us avert another Great Depression. Meanwhile, all this faux outrage by Republicans is little more than theatrics for a gullible public.
Where were they when President George W. Bush added $4.9 trillion to the national debt during his two terms in office? Oh, I remember, they were busily eliminating the pay-go rules that had required tax cuts and new spending to be paid for without adding to the deficit. Then they launched two wars, cut taxes on the wealthy and added a deficit-busting prescription drug benefit to Medicare.
All that, plus the financial collapse and the TARP bailouts, meant Bush left Obama a projected $1.2 trillion deficit — a figure reported by the Congressional Budget Office two weeks before Obama took office.
But when Obama asked Congress to pass legislation establishing a bipartisan deficit commission to get a long-term handle on national spending, Republicans helped block the measure. Instead, Obama had to establish a weaker one by executive order. Its recommendations are due by Dec. 1.
Obama has spent the last year and a half cleaning up the mess handed to him while trying to help average Americans through the worst economic conditions since the Depression. But too many midterm voters, like the lady at the Austin bar, haven't noticed. They are too busy with contrived, Fox News-fed worries over the page-count of bills to have a clue what's actually in them or to know who is really on their side.