Democrats, sensing a defining political issue that could help them solidify their hold on national government, may abandon efforts to try and work out a deal with Republicans on a national health care plan.
Polls show most Americans want something done about the rising cost of health care and the inability of many to obtain insurance and if that means nationalizing the medical system, then so be it.
Democratic leaders see the issue as a way to further define differences between them and what more and more Americans see as an obstructionist Republican party so they are pondering whether or not to cut the GOP loose and go it alone.
To Democratic political strategists, the plan makes sense. For Republican operatives, it represents another nightmare for the party of the elephant.
Emboldened by polls that show public backing for a government health insurance plan, Democrats are moving to make it a politically defining issue in the debate over the future of medical care.
Behind-the-scenes attempts to get a deal with Republicans on nonprofit co-ops as an alternative to a public plan have led only to frustration, complains a key Democrat. He and his colleagues may have to go it alone, said Sen. Chuck Schumer.
The co-ops were seen as perhaps the last hope for compromise on a contentious issue that threatens any remaining prospects of bipartisan support for President Barack Obama’s sweeping plan to remake the health care system.
"I don’t think I could say with a straight face that this (co-op proposal) is at all close to a nationwide public option," Schumer, D-N.Y., told The Associated Press on Sunday. "Right now, this co-op idea doesn’t come close to satisfying anyone who wants a public plan."
Most Democrats want the final health care bill to include a government sponsored plan that for the first time would be open to middle-class workers and their families. It would be offered alongside private plans through a new kind of insurance purchasing pool called an exchange. Individuals and small businesses would be able to buy coverage through exchanges, but eventually businesses of any size might be able to join.
Proponents say the option of a public plan in the marketplace would put a brake on costs and check the power of insurers. But Republicans, insurers and many business leaders say a government plan could drive private insurance companies out of business.
Nonetheless, two recent news media polls have found public support for a government plan, even if many people are unsure about its implications. The most recent survey, a New York Times-CBS News poll released Sunday, found that 72 percent supported the idea, including half of those who identified themselves as Republicans.
"The polling data backs up our subjective view that to make health care reform work, you need a public option," said Schumer.
However, some in the Democratic party are not so sure.
President Obama’s campaign for health care reform by this fall, once considered highly likely to succeed, suddenly appears in real jeopardy.
Top White House advisers, especially chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, are still privately predicting massive changes to the health care system in 2009. But for the first time, Democrats on Capitol Hill and in the administration are expressing frank worries about stronger-than-expected opposition from moderate Democrats and worse-than-expected estimates for how much the plan could cost.
Business groups, which had embraced the idea of reform and have been meeting quietly with Democrats for months in an effort to shape the legislation, now talk of spending millions of dollars to oppose the latest proposals out of Capitol Hill. And Democrats themselves are not united, with leading party figures making contradictory declarations about how far they should go to overhaul the system when deficits are soaring and prospects for an economic recovery remain cloudy.
And top Democratic officials tell POLITICO they are increasingly pessimistic about getting any more Republican votes than they did on the stimulus package, with some aides referring to the idea of a bipartisan bill as "fool’s gold" — an unattainable waste of time.