Bob Franken

Health Care Reform: Trial Balloons Up, Poll Numbers Down


Sometimes there are so many trial balloons in the air, they could be mistaken for an eclipse. In the world of health care reform, they are currently leaving us all totally in the dark. And as the politicians send them up, their poll numbers go down.

Let’s review: The Obama administration continues to play word games, offering vapid assurances to their progressive allies that the public option is still an option, while leaving very broad hints it’s perfectly willing to abandon the idea — and those who cling to it. Blaming the media, as usual, President Obama said again on Thursday that “the press got excited and some folks on the left got a little excited.” He went on: “I see nothing wrong with having a public option as one choice.”

Not exactly a fall-on-his-sword declaration, particularly since the president seemed to be differentiating himself from “some folks on the left.” Let’s not forget that if it wasn’t for “some folks on the left,” there would probably be different folks in the White House.

He’s not the only Democrat out there posturing. Congressional leaders are telling anybody who will listen that they may try and ram reform through without participation from the other side of the aisle. “The White House and the Senate Democratic leadership still prefer a bipartisan bill,” said a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. “However, patience is not unlimited, and we are determined to get something done this year by any legislative means necessary.”

Not to be outdone, GOP politicians are making it clear they know a thing or two about trying to bully with balloons. They believe they’ve got a winner when they raise the prospect they will kill anything that includes a public option — what they prefer to call “a government takeover of health care.” They seem to have been emboldened by the town-hall craziness, even though there is strong evidence that the conservative shouting at these meetings was a big turnoff to the population overall.

So, who has momentum? Nobody really. In fact, the health care battle is taking its toll on everybody. A newly released Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that the number of people who believe Obama will make the right decisions for the country has tumbled to 49 percent. Of course, Congressional Republicans are in the tank at 21 percent. What the polls seem to reflect is that people are getting sick and tired of the politicians. And this is only August, before the real heavy lifting begins and the real partisan smackdown of the fall.

The president is spending his time trying to keep his fellow Democrats on the same side, which hasn’t always been easy. “You know,” he told an audience of supporters, “passing a big bill like this is always messy.”

What will be messier for him is: As all the trial balloons burst, so does any chance of passing the “big bill.”

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