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With Public Option Removed, Public, Labor Groups Sour On Bill

The results of the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, with parts leaked out by Chuck Todd, shows what polls have been showing for a long time – that without the public option, support for the health care bill on the left is collapsing. If you want to know why the White House wants to get this bill passed quickly, poll numbers like these are a good reason:

Just 32% in the poll believe POTUS’ health care plan is a “good idea,” 47% say it’s a “bad idea.” Highest “bad idea” yet.

Most of the movement on the “bad idea” comes from some of the president’s core support groups, folks upset about lost public option.

Still, large majorities of the president’s core support groups believe his plan is a “good idea,” but the margins have shrunk.

Also: 44% say better NOT to pass the current #hcr plan, while 41% say better SOMETHING passes. First time NBC-WSJ poll had that upside down.

This is not in any way surprising. The public option has outpolled the overall health care bill for a number of months. With the plug pulled on it, of course the overall bill would suffer.

This collapse of support is starting to affect key groups. In particular, organized labor is showing the strain. They held a series of meetings today about the bill and whether or not they should withdraw support. The groups could either formally oppose the bill or deny any resources toward passage.

Labor leaders are fuming at the concessions that Democratic leadership made in the last few days to win the support of the caucus’s most conservative members, notably Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.). A bill that already included one highly objectionable provision (a tax on so-called Cadillac insurance plans) was stripped of a provision beloved by labor: a public alternative to private insurance coverage. Frustration boiled over even further after the leadership succumbed to Lieberman’s demand to jettison even the compromise to the public option — a proposal to expand Medicare to those as young as 55.

I don’t think we should make too much of this – Health Care for America Now, which is a coalition featuring a lot of labor support, quietly endorsed the Senate bill yesterday. But the SEIU backed out of an event where they were slated to offer their support today.

As a result of the meetings, labor leaders vowed to continue to try and improve the bill, rather than formally oppose it. This bitterness over the bill, particularly the parts that labor finds objectionable, around the lack of an employer mandate and the excise tax for high-end insurance plans, could extend into the 2010 elections. If labor denies resources to national Democrats and sits out the midterms, the consequences could be enormous.

Some labor groups, the CWA and the IBEW, are teaming with their corporate employers to oppose provisions in the bill, specifically the excise tax.

The combination of progressive groups, labor and the public withholding support for the bill would make it extremely difficult to keep up the momentum for passage, absent a quick-strike resolution before the end of the year.

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David Dayen

David Dayen