President Barack Obama faces a major political test in the weeks ahead
as opinion polls show fading public support for his top two priorities
- health care reform and the war in Afghanistan.
Health care reform remains President Obama's top domestic priority.
recent public opinion polls show that a growing number of Americans
disapprove of his handling of the health care issue, and that in turn
has emboldened Republicans trying to block reform efforts in Congress.
while a glib and smooth speaker, is not particularly persuasive," said Fred Barnes, editor of The Weekly Standard magazine. "And
so he is having trouble selling this health care policy, which is
unpopular, but it is also dragging him down," he said.
supporters found themselves on the defensive during the congressional
August recess when opponents used town hall forums with lawmakers
around the country to complain about the Obama plan.
"I do not
have a problem and I do not know anybody who has a problem. But the
'boogey man' Obama is trying to state that we have a problem, and he
wants to tax us," said an opponent.
The president is now attempting to regain the political momentum in the health care debate by trying to reassure the public.
"For all the scare tactics out there, what is truly scary, what is truly risky, is if we do nothing," he said.
recent surveys show the president's overall approval rating at or just
above 50 percent - a far cry from higher numbers in the early days of
Tom DeFrank is a longtime political observer
with the New York Daily News and regular guest on VOA's Issues in the
"It is very clear that he has lost control of the
agenda," he said. "You get a feeling that events are pulling him along
rather than him the situation now. He has had a bad summer. His
[poll] numbers are down, health care is in peril and he has not been
able to work his will on his own [Democratic] party, much less the
Political experts say the stakes in the
health care debate are huge, not only for President Obama, but also for
congressional Democrats who will defend their House and Senate seats in
next year's midterm congressional elections.
Bill Clinton knows firsthand about the political consequences of
failing to enact health care reform. Republicans blocked his reform
plans early in his presidency and used the issue to retake control of
the House and the Senate in the 1994 congressional elections.
need to pass a bill. It needs to be the best bill we can possibly get
through Congress. But doing nothing is not only the worse thing we can
do for the economy and the worst thing we can do for health care, it is
the worst thing we can do for the Democrats and don't you think the
Republicans do not know it," said Mr. Clinton.
Analysts say that
Republicans have had some success in raising doubts about the Obama
health care initiative by focusing on the impact of the plan on the
growing federal budget deficit and by raising the specter of too much
government interference in the health care sector.
Republicans have really won this message war by tying the issue of
health care to spending. Their chief concerns with this are, number
one, the price tag of whatever proposal that Democrats are creating
and, number two, the concern that their own health care will not be the
same as it was before a bill gets passed," said David Wasserman, who
is with The Cook Political Report and a recent guest on VOA's
The intensity of the health care debate will pick up next week when Congress returns to work after its summer break.
addition to health care, the Obama administration appears to be facing
a growing problem with domestic support for the war in Afghanistan.
recent poll by ABC News and The Washington Post newspaper found that 51
percent of those surveyed believe the war is not worth fighting,
compared with 47 percent who support it.
Matthew Duss is with
the Center for American Progress. He says the discontent in Congress
and among the public could grow unless the war effort begins to go
"If he does not show some progress and it just seems
like we are getting deeper and deeper into an occupation and a
counter-insurgency effort without any positive news for a number of
months, I think he could face some real opposition," he said.
U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal,
said in a report released this week that the situation in Afghanistan
is serious, but that success is achievable.