Democrats Fail At Health Care Messaging: CBO Score A Near-Meaningless Talking Point

I have written about this issue before, but I think it is important for people, Democratic Congressional members, consultants, and political pundits to realize just how completely and totally Democrats failed with their health care messaging, especially when it comes to the issue of the deficit. Democrats easily wasted more than two months waiting around and making minor changes to the bills so they could get good CBO scores showing the bill would be projected to reduce the deficit. They risked huge internal fights over the excise tax used to make the bill a deficit reducer. Looking at the polls, this effort was a massive waste from a political perspective.

A new Kaiser Family Foundation poll shows that 45% of people think the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) determined the new health care law would increase the budget deficit over the next ten years. Only 25% actually correctly knew that the CBO in fact projected the new law would reduce the deficit (with 13% don't know/refuse to answer and 16% who believe the CBO said it would not impact the deficit either way).

Unlike previous polls, this one does not ask people if they think the bill would increase the deficit, which you can believe even if you know that CBO reports said otherwise because you disagree with their conclusions. What is important is that this poll shows a plurality of people believe something completely incorrect about the CBO's findings.

This is just amazing. Democrats treated the CBO like God and acted in, frankly, a misguided and often self-destructive manner, worrying way too much about achieving a good CBO score. Not only do the American people not know or care about this work, but a plurality in fact believe the exact opposite.

Clearly, the Republicans did a great job of winning the messaging war and getting most people to believe something that is not true, but I think a huge amount of blame rests with the Democrats. They allowed themselves to become completely obsessed with the total revenue number, the magical $900 billion number. They even moved the start date back by a year, forcing millions to needlessly go without insurance, just to make the CBO score look prettier.

Democrats should have stated clearly, early, and never wavered, that they only cared about the net deficit number and would talk about nothing else. Saying it does not matter if we spend $600 billion but save $625 billion, all that matters is that we net $25 billion in total debt reductions. Businesses and investors don't really care as much about total revenue as they do about net profit or net losses. Democrats allowed themselves to become obsessed with the total revenue number and that made it easy for Republicans to feed into the meme that the total revenue number was actually important and confuse people into thinking that was a huge deficit spending number.

What you watched with health care is the Democrats completely failing at messaging. Making sure the CBO said their new health care law was fully paid for and would reduce the deficit was a top goal and talking point for Democrats, but only 25% of American's got the message. To put this messaging failure in perspective, that is fewer than the number of people who self-identify as Democrats. Clearly, Democrats need to examine what they did from the messaging perspective to try to learn something from this complete failure.

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