Allies of health care reform suggest that, if enacted, a public health care option will help make health care affordable, and will get us off the path to escalating and unsustainable costs that we are on now. This idea, however, never gets much in the way of examination, because of the media's newfound obsession with spending and deficits. So, there's no policy debate on the merits. Rather, what's been captured is the big shiny battle between political sides: One side that's "ambitious," one side that wants to curb spending, and a host of compromisers, working their typical hyper-timid incrementalism. Health care reform thus becomes a shiny political arena in which to do battle, as opposed to a policy that could -- if written effectively enough -- actually benefit Americans.
But while no one in the press actually wants to play a role in helping Americans -- wouldn't be balanced, after all! -- they all want to wield opinion polls, so long as they add drama to the debate. And so what began on Morning Joe last week continued on Sunday. Back on June 18th, Joe Scarborough cited a poll that indicated Americans were more concerned with bringing down deficits than they were with additional economic stimulus, and somehow teased that out into this conclusion: "Don't you think that this puts the Obama administration behind the eight ball on health care?"
The same question was raised on multiple occasions on Sunday's shows, despite the fact that a) this poll had nothing to do with health care and b) other, just as recent polls were telling a much different story: the best way to avoid being behind the eight ball was to definitely include the public option in the health care reform package:
A new poll by a nonpartisan, D.C.-based research group finds truly overwhelming support for the public option. The kicker: The poll was bankrolled partly by previous opponents of health care reform, including one of the nation's best-known insurance companies.
The poll -- which was just released by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, a D.C. policy think tank -- finds that a majority (53%) strongly back the availability of a public plan, while another 30% "somewhat" support it. That's a total of 83% in favor of a public plan -- a staggeringly large majority.
The New York Times followed up Employee Benefit Research with a poll of their own, and confirms the widespread public enthusiasm for the public option. But, via Matt Yglesias, look how these numbers break down:
Unless my eyes deceive me, these results show that even half of those deficit-hawking, spending-averse Republicans support a public health care option. Perhaps they recognize the need for it! Perhaps they are living their free market values, confident that no one will partake in a government plan that hews to the traditional inefficiencies about which they've always warned. Regardless, these are the truly eye-popping numbers. And yet, the press insists on torturing another set of poll results, pretending that the public option isn't that popular.