In the current battle over health care legislation, the Republican Party has walked a political tightrope, trying to stall reform's consideration while not appearing indifferent to the struggles of millions of Americans who lack insurance or are dissatisfied with their coverage.
But on Monday, one GOP lawmaker went off message. Appearing on MSNBC, Rep. Peter King, (R-N.Y.) declared that health care reform was "not a major issue among the American people."
"I think the last poll showed 14 percent see health care reform as being a major issue," said the New York Republican, often rumored to be a potential candidate for Senate in 2010. "I think this is a metaphor of the president having gone too far, too fast, and really not living up to his campaign promises of governing from the center. But we have to avoid acting as if we won this battle. Right now the voters are turning somewhat against Barack Obama. It doesn't mean they are coming to us. We have to play this, I believe, very effectively but not be going for the kill."
King's polling reference was to an NBC/Wall Street Journal survey released last week that showed health care was the third highest priority for the public. Job creation was the top priority of 38 percent of the public; the deficit, 17 percent; and health care 14 percent.
Being the third highest "top priority" is hardly synonymous with being a minor issue -- certainly not when considering that when NBC/WSJ tallied the respondent's first and second priorities, health care shot up to a tie for second place, at 32 percent. Moreover, a Time Magazine poll released around the same time, found that nearly 70 percent of the public said it was very or somewhat important Congress and the President pass major health reform in the next few months.
Later in the MSNBC interview, King acknowledged that when people are asked if they want health care reform, "they will say yes."
"But then what you talk about what health care means it is not what President Obama wants."
Here too, however, he was off base. According to the same NBC/WSJ poll that he referenced earlier, 56 percent of respondents said they favor a health care plan along the lines of what the president supported; 38 percent opposed it.