Support for public option keeps growing

SUPPORT FOR PUBLIC OPTION KEEPS GROWING…. As lawmakers on the Hill renew discussions today on shaping health care reform legislation, it’s helpful to have a front-page, above-the-fold headline in the Washington Post that reads, “Public option gains support; Clear majority now backs plan.”

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that support for a government-run health-care plan to compete with private insurers has rebounded from its summertime lows and wins clear majority support from the public.

Americans remain sharply divided about the overall packages moving closer to votes in Congress and President Obama’s leadership on the issue, reflecting the partisan battle that has raged for months over the administration’s top legislative priority. But sizable majorities back two key and controversial provisions: both the so-called public option and a new mandate that would require all Americans to carry health insurance.

For an idea that’s supposed to be contentious and divisive, the public option sure does seem popular.

Specifically, respondents were asked, “Would you support or oppose having the government create a new health insurance plan to compete with private health insurance plans?” A 57% majority support the measure — a number that has steadily increased since August.

Two weeks ago, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) declared that the public option “has been resoundingly rejected by the American people.” Care to revise that, congressman?

But just as important was the question that most pollsters have failed to ask. There have been plenty of surveys showing strong public support for a health care reform plan that enjoys backing from both parties. But that’s only half of the picture. The Post/ABC poll took the next step:

Faced with a basic choice that soon may confront the administration and Democratic congressional leaders, a slim majority of Americans, 51 percent, would prefer a plan that included some form of government insurance for people who cannot get affordable private coverage even if it had no GOP support in Congress. Thirty-seven percent would rather have a bipartisan plan that did not feature a public option. Republicans and Democrats are on opposite sides of this question, while independents prefer a bill that includes a public option but does not have Republican support, by 52 percent to 35 percent.

Greg Sargent, who’s been pushing the relevance of this angle for several weeks, explained nicely why this is important: “Other public polls have offered respondents a straight choice — do they want a partisan bill or a bipartisan one — without explaining that winning over GOP support has actual policy consequences for the final bill that they might not like. When this is explained clearly — and the WaPo framing is a far more accurate depiction of the choice the public and lawmakers face — a majority wants the partisan, Dem-only bill with the public option. Indeed, a majority wants the public option more than they want bipartisanship for its own sake.”

In other words, bipartisanship is popular, but the public option is more popular. The next time a lawmaker proclaims, “The American people want us to work together on a bipartisan solution,” remember, the American people really want them to work together on passing a public option.