By Charles Babington, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans and their lawmakers are dramatically out of sync on health care, with large majorities of people looking for bipartisan cooperation that's nowhere in sight.
A new Associated Press-GfK Poll finds a widespread hunger for improvements to the health care system, which suggests President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies have a political opening to push their plan. Half of all Americans say health care should be changed a lot or "a great deal," and only 4% say it shouldn't be changed at all.
But they don't like the way the debate is playing out in Washington, where GOP lawmakers unanimously oppose the Obama-backed legislation and Democrats are struggling to pass it by themselves with narrow House and Senate majorities.
More than four in five Americans say it's important that any health care plan have support from both parties. And 68 percent say the president and congressional Democrats should keep trying to cut a deal with Republicans rather than pass a bill with no GOP support.
Leaders of both parties in Congress say that's not how it's going to work out. After a year of off-and-on negotiations, Republicans adamantly oppose Obama's plans. The White House and Democratic leaders say it's now-or-never for a health care overhaul, which would cover an additional 30 million Americans, require almost everyone to buy health insurance and impose new restrictions on insurance companies.
The Democrats' plan relies on parliamentary rules that bar Senate filibusters. That would enable Senate Democrats to pass a companion health care bill — which House Democrats are demanding — with a simple majority. Democrats control 59 of the Senate's 100 votes, one shy of the number needed to stop GOP filibusters.
The new poll underscores Obama's struggles to wrest control of the health care debate from Republicans, who couch his efforts as a government takeover and costly intrusion into private lives.
Many of his allies are baffled, because Americans clearly want change, and some of the individual components of the Democrats' health care agenda seem popular. Moreover, the public has not embraced the Republicans' overall approach to legislating, giving lower approval ratings to GOP lawmakers than to Democrats, although both parties fare badly.