By JOHN FUND
Voters are increasingly worried about unemployment, but Democratic leaders in Congress remain obsessed with passing health- care reform. Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin was asked recently if a health-care bill would pass the Senate by the end of this month. "It must," he said. "We have to finish it."
Still, many in the trenches are uneasy about the sprawling, complex bill they privately acknowledge has no bipartisan support, doesn't seriously tackle soaring costs and will increase insurance premiums. That may explain Majority Leader Harry Reid's haste—he has ordered a rare Sunday session this weekend to hurry up the debate. Public support for the bill averages only 39.2% backing in all polls compiled by Pollster.com.
But buried in the surveys is an explanation for the Democratic obsession to pass the bill: An overwhelming 76% of Democrats back it. "They believe the liberal base expects them to deliver and will punish them if they don't," says Democratic pollster Doug Schoen, who worked for Bill Clinton in the 1990s.
That fear is backed up by a new poll taken for the Daily Kos, the left-wing Web site: 81% of self-described Republicans say they are certain or likely to vote in 2010 compared to 65% of independent voters and only 56% of Democrats. "Democrats have simply not been given enough of a reason to come out and vote yet," writes liberal blogger David Dayen. "The left is waiting for that long-promised 'change' they can believe in."
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Mr. Reid's own re-election troubles—he trails his two most likely GOP opponents by between six and 10 points—may be influencing his behavior. He needs his liberal base to turn out for him to have a chance to win. National Journal reports he included a public option in the bill in part because his staff felt he "could get the liberal left off his back for a while."
Other Democrats are in a similar bind. One Senate Democrat thinks the bill is bad policy. But last month that same senator joined with all of his fellow Democrats to bring the bill to the floor. The party leadership has made it clear that anyone who votes against health care will have a difficult time passing their own bills in the future.
So the Senate death march continues. Many Democrats have grave misgivings about making the bill a top priority given the economy. But in the age of bloodthirsty partisan bloggers they dare not be fully candid. They can only hope their march doesn't lead them right over the edge of a political cliff next November.
Mr. Fund is a columnist for WSJ.com.