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As Vote Nears, Support for Reform Rises | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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As Vote Nears, Support for Reform Rises

Talk about an inconvenient truth for congressional Republicans and their amen corner in the media!

As the debate about health-care reform reaches a fever pitch -- with a key House vote now expected to take place Sunday -- conservatives in Congress and on talk radio would have us believe that Americans are dead-set against expanding access to care or in any way constraining the profiteering of the insurance industry.

Yet, independent polling suggests that a plurality of Americans now support the plan proposed by the Obama administration and its congressional allies -- and that support is on the rise as the debate clarifies.

A new poll by the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation finds that 46 percent of the surveyed support the legislative package, while just 42 percent oppose it.

That's an uptick for reform -- as measured by a well-regarded polling operation that has long experience conducting surveys on health-care issues.

When Kaiser polled in January, Democratic proposals were supported by 42 percent of Americans.

In February, the number rose to 43 percent.

Opposition to reform is actually down one percent since February.

In the current polling, Democrats overwhelmingly support the legislation.

Republicans overwhelmingly oppose it.

Independents are almost evening split.

There is no question that Americans remain deeply devided on the issue of health-care reform.

Most polls, whether they indicate general public support for or against reform, put the difference between the two sides within the margin of error.

But that's a lot different from overwhelming opposition.

And analysts of recent polls have pointed out that a substantial number of those who register opposition to the Obama plan say it does not go far enough.

What this suggests to wavering Democrats is that there is majority support for reform -- even if there is some debate about its scope and character.

This is one of the reasons why previously skeptical members, such as Congressman Alan Boyd, a Blue-Dog Democrat from Florida, are breaking in favor of reform.

Washington state centrist Adam Smith, still officially undecided, now says he leans toward a "yes" vote.

And Virginia Congressman Tom Perriello, one of the House's most vulnerable Democrats, just signed on, issuing a statement in which he declared:

After all of the valid ideological debates, health care reform for me comes down to whether this bill will save money for working families and small business and whether it will keep our hospitals and clinics from closing their doors. It will. At this moment, we either move towards solutions or point fingers while our health care system, our federal treasury, and our middle-class families go bankrupt. I will not sit by while that happens to our nation and our families. I came to Washington to do what is necessary, not what is easy, and reforming our health care system ranks near the top of that list.

This legislation will reduce our federal deficit by $1.2 trillion, and for a family of four making $60,000 a year, they can expect to see their costs lowered by $1,000-$2,000 every year under this legislation, and probably more over time. That is real money back in the pockets of working families at a critical time.

I believe this health care reform legislation is a critical step forward for America. But I cannot support the backroom deals and kickbacks infamously inserted into Senate side, like the Cornhusker Kickback and the Louisiana Purchase. Nor can I support the crushing 40% tax that would fall on many middle-class families under their bill. So I am prepared to vote yes on health care reform as soon as 51 Senators commit to seeing this reconciliation bill through to completion.

No, not all Democrats are signing on for the plan. (Pennsylvania Democrat Jason Altmire just confirmed an expected "no" vote.)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, is still cajoling her caucus members to commit.

But the cajoling gets easier when the poll numbers turn more favorable.

And they are likely to continue to do so.

One of the more interesting facts of congressional debates is that legislation tends to get more popular immediately after it passes. This is not an especially surprising phenomenon. People like to be on the winning side and they can also be influenced by last-minute arguments from those with bully pulpits, such as President Obama.

Congressional Democrats recognize these realities and -- like it or not -- they are influenced by them.

In other words, the political moment appears to be increasingly favorable for reform forces.

To be sure, Pelosi still has her work cut out for her.

The weekend will be as intense a political moment as the speaker has experienced since taking charge of the House.

But there are two kinds of "intense" in politics:

* intensely agonizing, when things aren't going well and

* intensely exhilarating when things are going well.

For Pelosi, the new numbers tip the intensity scale more toward the exhilarating side.

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