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Americans Can Speak for Themselves on Health Care

A Commentary by Froma Harrop

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Have you voted on any of the Democratic health care reform plans? Me neither.

No such vote was ever taken. But with coordination that the Rockettes would envy, Republicans insist that "the American people have spoken" on the matter, and they want the proposals killed.

House Republican Leader John Boehner: "The American people have spoken, loudly and clearly: They do not want Washington Democrats' government takeover of health care."

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell: "The American people do not want this bill to pass."

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele: "The American people have spoken. The White House hasn't heard their message."

Quite a coincidence, these guys saying the same thing on the same day. No matter. What they're saying is nonsense.

All politicians try, but Republicans excel, at creating a fantasy public always marching behind their baton. What the GOP leaders lack in veracity, they make up for in confidence.

They base their public mind-reading on polls showing displeasure with the Democrats' reform legislation (or what the public thinks is in it). They ignore polls that don't.

Some Americans are unhappy with the lack of a public option in the Senate bill, others with its inclusion in the House version. Many already have their government-guaranteed health coverage and don't want to share. Almost everyone detests the "Cornhusker kickback," a special deal arranged by Nebraska's Democratic senator, Ben Nelson. And how does one count strong opinions by those who don't have the foggiest idea what's really in the bills -- but who are taking their talking orders from partisan yakkers?

It's worth noting that President Obama's proposal, based on the Senate bill, does not include a public option. It eliminates the Cornhusker kickback. It eases up on the controversial tax on so-called Cadillac health plans. And in an appeal to older voters, it does away with the Medicare drug benefit's "doughnut hole."

The public option has been the most demagogued item in the entire health care debate -- not because it's a bad, or even radical, idea but because the deep-pocketed insurance industry opposes it. Republicans have been portraying it, a government-run insurance plan to compete with private options, as a socialist Satan intent on destroying the American Way. The public option has been burning at their stake for so long, it's a wonder there's even an ash left of support for it.

But a recent Newsweek poll has 50 percent of Americans still favoring a public option and 48 percent opposed. That the administration refused to strenuously defend a cost-saving device that always enjoyed widespread backing is something I'll never understand (and may never forgive). Nonetheless, health care reform must pass, with or without the public option.

The last time "the American people" came close to officially speaking on this subject was in November 2008, when they elected a Democratic president and expanded the Democratic majorities in both the House and the Senate. It's mind-boggling that any sophisticated analyst would attribute Republican Scott Brown's surprise victory in the Massachusetts special senatorial election to public rejection of government-guaranteed health care. As a Massachusetts state senator, Brown voted for a universal coverage plan that's a lot less conservative than what's on deck in Washington.

The Newsweek poll also asked for feelings about the job that Obama and Republicans and Democrats in Congress were doing on health care reform. Some 52 percent disapproved of Obama's performance, 61 percent disapproved of the congressional Democrats', and 63 percent disapproved of the congressional Republicans'.

No one is walking away from this with an Academy Award, but what's coming out of Republican leaders' mouths clearly isn't what's coming out of the American people's. The people will speak definitively on Nov. 2.

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