- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 13, 2009

Public support for the Obama administration’s sweeping government health care reforms is declining as opponents continue to pack congressional town-hall meetings with some analysts suggesting the president may have to settle for more modest legislation.

Public-policy analysts say that nearly two weeks of intense and often angry town-hall debate back home during August recess has thrown the White House on the defensive and turned its hopes for a full-blown overhaul of the health care system into a steeper climb.

“Publicity attached to town halls has kept the administration from framing the debate to its advantage. They have their work cut out for the rest of the month,” said Thomas E. Mann, senior analyst in governance studies at the liberal Brookings Institution.

But Mr. Mann said he still believes “a modest health reform bill, passed exclusively by Democrats, with [Maine Sen. Olympia J.] Snowe the only possible Republican vote in support, will clear Congress by the end of the year. But there will be many ups and downs before getting there.”

By “modest,” Mr. Mann said he meant without Mr. Obama’s proposal for a government program to cover the uninsured, “or at most a contingent, constrained, or nonprofit version.”

White House health care czar Nancy-Ann DeParle suggested last month that the president may be willing to compromise on a public plan, though the White House said Mr. Obama still stood by his original proposal.

Nevertheless, polls show there has been significant deterioration in the public’s once sizeable support for the administration’s reform plans as details emerged about what was in the pending House bill that Democratic leaders expect to bring up for a vote when Congress returns after Labor Day.

A Gallup Poll released Tuesday said it found that “about the same percentage (35 percent) would tell their congressional representative to vote for a new health care reform bill when Congress reconvenes in September as say they would tell their representative to vote against such a bill (36 percent).” The rest, 29 percent, had no opinion either way.

A Rasmussen poll said overall support for the bill had dropped to a new low of 42 percent, with 53 percent now opposed, up nine points since June.

Health care analyst Grace-Marie Turner, president of the conservative Galen Institute, says “the president has little choice but to throttle back his plans.”

But in her daily blog that tracks the course of the health care battle, Ms. Turner said that Democrats “will not easily let go of the ‘public plan,’ which would anger Mr. Obama’s supporters on the left. It is very likely too late for the president to shift his stance on reform,” she wrote Tuesday.

That appears to be the dominant, or at least loudest, view being strongly expressed at town-hall meetings across the country that some analysts think could effectively decide the fate of health care before lawmakers return in September.

Initially, the White House and Mr. Obama’s Democratic allies struck back at angry protesters for disrupting the meetings, calling them “mobs,” “extremists” and “thugs,” and said the protests were “manufactured” and did not represent a majority of the country. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, in a USA Today column Monday called them “un-American.”

But the White House and Democrats noticeably softened their tone this week and embraced “vigorous debate” when it appeared the pitched battle over the town-hall meetings was drowning out their message on health care as public support was plummeting.

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