‘A SHARED SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY’….Whenever the issue universal health care comes up, near the top of the list of conservative talking points is concern about government “interfering” with health care. As it turns out, it may not be such a scary concept after all.

The federal government should guarantee that all Americans have basic health insurance coverage, says a committee set up by Congress to find out what people want when it comes to health care.

“Assuring health care is a shared social responsibility,” says the interim report of the Citizens’ Health Care Working Group, a 14-member committee that went to 50 communities and heard from 23,000 people.

Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) agreed in 2003 to create a congressionally-backed panel to work outside DC to find out what Americans actually want from the health care system. Apparently, people said they want universal coverage, guaranteed by the federal government.

To which I respond: of course they do. The existing system costs too much and offers too little to too few people. Since the Clinton plan fell apart in 1994, the country has seen no practical changes, except services cost more and there are more uninsured Americans. A single-payer, universal system — services are provided by a private healthcare system, but financed by the government — has to be more appealing than the status quo.

This gets back to something Kevin and I were discussing a few months ago: when it comes to the broader political debate over healthcare, those on the left who support a single-payer system don’t have to worry about changing the public’s mind — they’re already there. The vast majority of the country actually wants the federal government to spend more money on health care.

As for this specific Wyden/Hatch committee, the next step in the process is a 90-day public comment period, followed by a response from the Bush White House, and then five congressional committee hearings. I’m not optimistic — “socialized medicine” still strikes some people as scary, for reasons I don’t understand — but it should be interesting.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.