Health reform is the Holy Grail for Democrats, but it may turn out instead to be their political death march.
President Obama has told Democrats in Congress they must usher in "historic change" by courageously voting for reform, assuring them the voters will thank them later.
But "later" may be too late for many members who feel they are being forced to walk the plank and vote for a bill that becomes more unpopular by the day.
For starters, the bills cover only about half of the uninsured -- missing by miles the Democrats' goal of universal coverage. The Senate bill would leave 23 million people without insurance, and the House bill, at least 18 million, while spending nearly $2.5 trillion in the first year the program is implemented.
Next, people will feel the pain well before they see the gain. The bills start collecting new and higher taxes in 2010, but people won't start seeing any subsidies to help them buy insurance until 2014.
Health insurers and medical suppliers who must pay the new taxes will quickly raise their prices, leading to higher health insurance costs. Because Obama repeatedly has claimed the legislation will lower health-care costs, small businesses and citizens expecting relief will feel especially betrayed.
The Congressional Budget Office says the legislation will actually make the cost problem worse. It found that families purchasing health insurance in the individual market would see an increase in their premiums by $2,100 in the year 2016.
That's over and above the increases they already would face. A family would pay $15,200 for health insurance in 2016 with reform, and $13,100 if Congress does nothing.
Young people get hit the hardest with reform. Studies show the legislation would force them to pay premiums two or three times the amount they otherwise would be charged based upon their age and expected use of health services.
And seniors already are outraged because of nearly $500 billion in cuts to Medicare and are on high alert about potential rationing.
The Democrats didn't lose Congress in 1994 because they failed to enact the Clinton health reform bill, as members of Congress are being told. They lost because they were pushing a plan that was hugely unpopular with the voters. Just like today.
Republicans don't have the votes in either house of Congress to stop passage. Before Congress takes a final vote on compromise legislation, the only Democrats who may find health care to be a political gain are those who stand up and say, "Stop!"
Grace-Marie Turner is president and founder of the Galen Institute in Alexandria, Va.