Will Health Care Law Spur Voters To The Polls?

Voters are still deeply divided on the issue of health care overhaul. In a Washington Post poll, 40 percent of respondents said how their representative voted on health care won't matter in this fall's elections.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Let's turn now to NPR's Cokie Roberts, who joins us most Mondays to talk about politics.

Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Hi, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Ah, well. Cokie, for all the excitement around the Tea Party, and from what we just heard, do have any idea of how much of a force the Tea Party might be in the coming congressional elections?

ROBERTS: Well, you know, they - in polls, they're about equally supported and disapproved of. One, by Quinnipiac University, says basically half of Americans dont know who they are and the other half are pretty equally divided.

The question about Sarah Palin, who is clearly the hero of the movement, when it comes to these kinds of rallies, she remains - more people disapproving of her than approving of her.

One of the things about the Tea Party Movement that has gotten the attention of a lot of politicians, though, is that - how many women are involved in it. And that is unusual for something that is basically a conservative cause. And I thought it was interesting that Palin said to this big crowd, we're not going to sit down and shut up, which is kind of a rallying cry for women who feel like theyve often been asked to do that.

The Washington Post poll, over the weekend, showed that if the Tea Party fields candidates of its own rather than trying to win, say, a Republican Party nomination, it will hurt the Republicans in November. That would be one of the few things the Democrats have to be happy about.

MONTAGNE: Well, what about the health care law itself? After all the political drama to get there, is there any indication that it will even make a difference this November?

ROBERTS: Well, it might for the man the Tea Partiers were aiming at in Nevada, Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid, who seems to just be going down in the polls. But in general, we've seen some slight up tick for the Democrats when voters are asked which party do you want to represent your district in November. The Democrats were tying, or slightly ahead, in some polls where they had been behind since the health care bill.

So, it probably shows that their judgment was right, that doing nothing was worse than doing something, so they don't seem hapless to the voters. But voters are still deeply divided on the issue of health care itself. But even at this moment, Renee, of this fever pitch on the issue, 40 percent - in the Washington Post poll - say how their member voted on health care won't matter this fall.

And, you know, that's probably right. There's lots of real world experience to come between now and then, and the economy will be everything. Two-thirds, or close to it, still say the country is off on the wrong track, and that's the real problem for the party in power in November.

MONTAGNE: Well, that's interesting, because both parties - Democrats and Republicans - seem determined to keep talking about health care. I mean, Speaker Pelosi and President Obama are holding rallies supporting it this weekend. Republicans are keeping up a drum roll for repeat - repeal rather. Is that ladder likely to go anywhere?

ROBERTS: I can't believe it. Now, they keep talking about a health care bill back in the 1980s that was repealed, and that was quite something to witness, because the Democratic Congress, President Reagan and the old folks' lobbying groups - the AARP - had all supported this - what was catastrophic health insurance bill. Where more wealthy, elderly people, paid the premiums of less wealthy elderly people in case of a health disaster.

And both sides - both the more and the less wealthy - decided they hated the bill and protested against it - famously against the then-chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Danny Rostenkowski, where they surrounded his car. And members of Congress sort of threw up their hands and said, okay, if the people who are benefiting from this bill don't like it either, we will repeal it.

But the problem then was that it wasn't really what anybody wanted at the time. What they were looking for was long-term health care, not this type of health care. Right now, we're in a very different position of the kinds of things that are in this - particularly the kinds of things that will go into effect right away.

And I think that Republicans would be very hard pressed to repeal such things as preexisting conditions for children not being allowed, taking that away.

MONTAGNE: Cokie, thanks very much. NPR's Cokie Roberts.

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