The Popularity of the Public Plan

There’s something very frustrating about the way public opinion polling plays into the legislative process. If you talk about the idea of increasing the gas tax, then you hear that even though that’s a good idea it can’t be done because it’s unpopular. But if you talk about health care reform and the inclusion of a strong public plan, suddenly public opinion becomes irrelevant. Ezra Klein pulled this number out of an NBC/WSJ poll:

And not only is the idea of a public option popular in the abstract, the inclusion of a robust public option would save a lot of money and thus allow the congress to minimize its reliance on unpopular measures like tax increases. But suddenly here public opinion becomes irrelevant. You never hear a Blue Dog say “my seat is so vulnerable that I can’t afford not to back a super-popular public plan.” Ben Nelson’s not talking about how if Democrats want to stay viable in red states they need to robustly back a 70–20 issue like the public plan. The WSJ doesn’t run a headline saying “Opposition to Public Option Spells Political Trouble for Republicans.” Public opinion, in other words, can be a reason to eschew sound progressive policy but never a reason to enact it.