By giving in to Sen. Joseph Lieberman's (I-Conn.) demands on health care legislation, Senate Democratic leadership may have moved closer to blocking a Republican filibuster. But they've also made reform far less popular.
Lieberman's insistence that a government-run insurance option (as well as a provision to expand Medicare) be stripped from the bill has moved Democrats and the White House towards the wrong side of public opinion.
In a NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released on Wednesday, 45 percent of respondents said it was unacceptable to "no longer create a public health care plan administered by the federal government to compete directly with private health insurance companies". Only 42 percent said such a compromise was acceptable. Meanwhile, just 32 percent of people said the president's health care plan was now a "good idea" with 47 percent saying it was, in fact, a "bad idea" -- the highest percentage of detractors recorded.
"Most of the movement on the 'bad idea' comes from some of the president's core support groups, folks upset about lost public option," Chuck Todd, NBC political director and White House correspondent, tweeted.
The trickiest task facing Democrats going forward may be convincing the public that they should be required to purchase health insurance coverage but not have the option of getting it from the government. Months ago, the pro-reform group Health Care for America Now polled the individual mandate.
Sixty-four percent of national respondents said they opposed legislation "requiring everyone to buy and be covered by a private health insurance plan." Only 34 percent supported such a proposal. By contrast, 60 percent of respondents favored legislation "requiring everyone to buy and be covered by a health insurance plan with a choice between a public option and private insurance plans." Thirty-seven percent opposed such a plan.
The Senate, at the behest of one member, settled on the former and not the latter.
"The fact is what Lieberman has forced them to do is to take away one of the most popular provisions of the legislation, which is giving them the choice of the public option," said Richard Kirsch, national campaign manager at HCAN. "And our research has found that where a mandate is really unpopular without a public option it is quite popular with a public option."