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New Poll Revives Senate Support for a Public Health Care Option

June 22, 2009 - by Donny Shaw

With the Senate not having the votes to pass a public health care option and the House not having the votes to pass health care reform without including a public option it it, some conservative Senate Democrats began in the past few weeks to look at possible compromises. The most promising concept for a compromise came from Sen. Kent Conrad [D, ND]. His proposal for federally-chartered health care co-ops to compete with the traditional insurance companies was warmly received, but a lot of Democrats eventually determined that the co-ops wouldn’t have the resources to compete with the big companies and, therefore, they weren’t a viable substitute for a public option.

CBS News is reporting this morning that the Senate’s third-ranking Democrat, Charles Schumer [NY], is ditching Conrad’s co-op idea and whipping his colleagues to shore up support again behind a strong public option:

Emboldened by polls that show public backing for a government health insurance plan, Democrats are moving to make it a politically defining issue in the debate over the future of medical care.

Behind-the-scenes attempts to get a deal with Republicans on nonprofit co-ops as an alternative to a public plan have led only to frustration, complains a key Democrat. He and his colleagues may have to go it alone, said Sen. Chuck Schumer.

The co-ops were seen as perhaps the last hope for compromise on a contentious issue that threatens any remaining prospects of bipartisan support for President Obama’s sweeping plan to remake the health care system.

“I don’t think I could say with a straight face that this (co-op proposal) is at all close to a nationwide public option,” Schumer, D-N.Y., told The Associated Press on Sunday. “Right now, this co-op idea doesn’t come close to satisfying anyone who wants a public plan.”

As the article notes, there is a new poll out from CBS and the New York Times on Saturday that shows that Americans are strongly behind a new public health care option. The question asked was, “Would you favor or oppose the government offering everyone government administered health insurance plan – something like the Medicare coverage that people over 65 get – that would compete with private health insurance plans?” Seventy-two percent of those polled said they would favor such a plan, while only twenty percent said that they oppose it.

According to the poll, sixty-four percent also think that the government should guarantee health insurance for all Americans and fifty-seven percent would be willing to pay higher taxes so that all Americans have health insurance that they can’t lose no matter what.

Why then, with such overwhelming public support, would there be any hesitation in Congress to pushing through a public option? Paul Krugam thinks its because the Senate numbers this session give Democrats who are willing to oppose their party an opportunity to wield incredible power:

Honestly, I don’t know what these Democrats are trying to achieve. Yes, some of the balking senators receive large campaign contributions from the medical-industrial complex — but who in politics doesn’t? If I had to guess, I’d say that what’s really going on is that relatively conservative Democrats still cling to the old dream of becoming kingmakers, of recreating the bipartisan center that used to run America.
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