Is the Times getting ready to push nationalized health care in the new Democratic Congress? A new poll larded with health-care questions begs the question.
Friday's front-page carried a story based on the poll: "Most Support U.S. Guarantee of Health Care - Would Pay More Taxes in Return, Poll Finds."
"A majority of Americans say the federal government should guarantee health insurance to every American, especially children, and are willing to pay higher taxes to do it, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.
"While the war in Iraq remains the overarching issue in the early stages of the 2008 campaign, access to affordable health care is at the top of the public's domestic agenda, ranked far more important than immigration, cutting taxes or promoting traditional values.
"Only 24 percent said they were satisfied with President Bush's handling of the health insurance issue, despite his recent initiatives, and 62 percent said the Democrats were more likely to improve the health care system.
"Americans showed a striking willingness in the poll to make tradeoffs to guarantee health insurance for all, including paying as much as $500 more in taxes a year and forgoing future tax cuts."
"More people now see guaranteeing health insurance as important than did so at the end of the Clinton efforts in 1996. At that time, 56 percent polled said it was the government's responsibility to do so, and 38 percent said it was not. In the current poll, 64 percent said the government should guarantee health insurance for all; 27 percent said it should not.
"Moreover, an overwhelming majority in the current poll said the health care system needed fundamental change or total reorganization, just as they did in the early 1990s, when a deep recession and soaring health care costs galvanized the public and spurred the Clinton drive."
Here's Question 31, which is where the Times got its headline: "Would you be willing or not willing to pay higher taxes so that all Americans have health insurance that they can't lose no matter what?" 60% answered they were willing, while 34% said they were not willing.
The Times summarized that finding: "The poll found Americans across party lines willing to make some sacrifice to ensure that every American has access to health insurance. Sixty percent, including 62 percent of independents and 46 percent of Republicans, said they would be willing to pay more in taxes. Half said they would be willing to pay as much as $500 a year more."
The Times certainly pushed hard on health care - 56 poll questions are devoted to the topic.
While the Times emphasized that "More people now see guaranteeing health insurance as important than did so at the end of the Clinton efforts in 1996," the paper did not reveal that the number of people willing to pay higher taxes for it (which the Times found sufficiently newsworthy to put in the headline) has actually gone down since the Times first asked the question in September 1993, when the response was 61% willing - 33% unwilling. Yesterday's 60% willing - 34% unwilling split is actually slightly less than the 1993 figure.
Admittedly, yesterday's result was significantly higher than when the question was last asked in 1994 (55% willing - 42% unwilling), but historically it's right where it's always been in the Times' limited sample (four polls) - not really big news.