Don’t expect Harry Reid to back off from his fight for controversial legislation that would revamp the health care system.
To the contrary, Reid, D-Nev., is taking a calculated risk by staking his political future on reform that, according to one recent poll, 53 percent of Nevada voters oppose.
“Reid is going to be tied to the health care legislation whether he wants to be or not, so he might as well sell it,” said Nathan Gonzales, political editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, a nonpartisan newsletter.
Reid’s campaign is confident that once a bill passes, they’ll make it a political winner by showing it benefits Nevada.
“In spite of the scare tactics employed by the defenders of the status quo, Nevadans know that our health insurance system is broken and overwhelmingly demand reform,” Reid campaign manager Brandon Hall said. “Come the election, the choice will be clear between Senator Reid’s track record of passing health insurance reform and the Republicans’ knee-jerk opposition, even to ensuring access to preventive care like mammograms.”
Reid’s opponents know he’s vulnerable by virtue of his 38 percent favorable rating among registered Nevada voters compared with an unfavorable rating of 49 percent.
They want to keep the Senate majority leader off-balance by hammering away at any potential wedge issue they can find in the 2,000 pages of health reform legislation under debate in the U.S. Senate.
They’ve attacked Reid for eschewing strict anti-abortion measures that were included in the House of Representatives’ reform bill, for changing stances on the importation of prescription drugs and for efforts to save money by reducing spending toward Medicare.
Although it’s clear the stakes are no less than the future of the highest-ranking politician in Nevada, neither Reid nor his opponents can demonstrate theirs is the winning bet.
“Don’t believe anybody who says they know for sure how this is going to play out politically,” Gonzales says.
Even Nick Spirtos, a member of the group Health Care Professionals for Reid, acknowledged health reform is a difficult political issue.
Introduced Tuesday at a campaign event, Health Care Professionals for Reid is one of several demographic categories of supporters the campaign has highlighted. Others include Republicans for Reid, Veterans for Reid, Latinos for Reid and Seniors for Reid.
“This is a hard stand. This isn’t a winner politically,” said Spirtos, director of the Women’s Cancer Center of Nevada’s Division of Gynecologic Oncology. “This is a change that we need, and we need to stand up and say it.”
The introduction of the health care group included attacks on the positions of three potential Reid opponents: businessman and former college basketball star Danny Tarkanian, former Republican official Sue Lowden and former Nevada assemblywoman Sharron Angle.
Specifically, the Reid campaign said Angle and Tarkanian oppose minimum coverage standards for insurance plans, even for items such as mammograms and prostate screenings. They criticized Lowden for a vote against imposing similar minimum standards in 1995 when she was in the Nevada Legislature.
Angle disputed characterization of her stance on mammograms.
“I have never voted against mammograms. In fact I introduced legislation that would have given women more information on breast cancer prevention,” Angle said. “Health care issues will not be solved by government programs that ration care. They will be solved with free-market solutions, and that is where Harry Reid should focus his efforts instead of shifting blame through politically motivated slurs on those who oppose him.”
The criticism shows that although Reid has yet to prove reform will win with voters, he will work to make opposition to reform a loser for his potential challenger.
“Anyone who speaks against early screening … in this state is mistaken,” Spirtos says, citing high rates of late diagnosis of cervical cancer in Nevada. “They need to come into my operating room one day and they will stop that kind of chatter.”
Although a survey earlier this month by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research showed only 39 percent of Nevadans favored reform as proposed and 53 percent opposed it, the same poll showed some potential for reform to gain support.
In a separate question, respondents were asked to identify what kind, if any, of health reform is needed. The result was 84 percent favored some sort of intervention, with 29 percent advocating a major overhaul; 39 percent wanting some changes to expand insurance availability and lower costs; and 16 percent favoring minor changes. Only 9 percent said “the government should do nothing.”
“Hand-selected campaign supporters and political news conferences won’t change the minds of Nevada voters who overwhelmingly oppose Harry Reid’s tax-hiking, Medicare-raiding, deficit-spending, abortion-funding health care scheme,” Lowden consultant Robert Uithoven said.
Tarkanian consultant Jamie Fisfis says he’s convinced voters will favor Tarkanian’s vision for insurance reform.
“Danny Tarkanian’s plan allows individuals to buy their own tax deductible health insurance and decide what coverages they want to have,” Fisfis said. “Harry Reid wants 52 new government boards to dictate coverage. They could actually ban preventative mammograms.”
And just as there’s a risk for Reid that voters won’t support whatever health reform emerges, Reid’s opponents are also taking a gamble. If health reform becomes law and Reid manages to sway more voters to support it, his challengers’ opposition could backfire.
“Reid’s opponents are taking a risk by opposing the health care legislation,” Gonzales said. “But we don’t know for sure whether that opposition is right or wrong politically.”
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@ reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861.