Washington (CNSNews.com) - Universal health care is the primary focus of the new "progressive" agenda for liberals now back in the political driver's seat after winning control of Congress, according to liberal leaders attending the annual Take Back America conference in Washington this week.
On Monday, leaders from the sponsoring group, Campaign for America's Future, joined representatives of other liberal advocacy groups to introduce what they called "bold reforms" for the political debate.
Propelled by momentum from the November 2006 elections, liberals are pushing for an end to the war in Iraq, political action to address climate change and increased power for the labor movement. But the pursuit of universal health care holds center stage at Take Back America, even among those whose advocacy focuses on other issues.
Providing "affordable access to health care for every American" is the "ultimate prize" for left-wing activists, Brad Woodhouse, president of Americans United for Change, told a news conference kicking off the three-day conference.
Declaring that "the conservative era is dead," Woodhouse conceded that change would be difficult but encouraged liberal activists to remain unified.
Eli Pariser, executive director of the anti-war MoveOn.org Political Action, said that as the group begins to broaden its focus, members "want to see every American covered with health care."
Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, called universal health coverage the "number one domestic issue" facing the nation.
"Even insured folks in this country find that health care in unaffordable," Richards said, calling the GOP's approach to health care the "biggest failure of the conservative agenda."
Elected officials appearing at early conference events also stressed government-run health care as an important goal for the movement.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) called on conference attendees to "build political pressure that is so loud, so persistent, that it can't be ignored."
"We have to win the guarantee that every person in this country will get affordable, comprehensive and high quality health care," she said.
Andrea Batista Schlesinger, executive director of the liberal Drum Major Institute, encouraged conference-goers to stop dancing around the issue and be proud of the goal.
"Damn straight it's [social] engineering," she said of policy proposals like universal health care. "That's the point of government."
Noticeably off the radar at Take Back America is the issue of immigration reform. Batista Schlesinger referred to the debate over how to deal with illegal immigrants only to say they should be offered "legal status."
The conference will feature one panel discussion on the issue Wednesday morning. It competes with a speech by filmmaker Michael Moore, who will preview and discuss his new documentary criticizing the health care industry.
The health care approach is likely to strike a chord with Americans, a majority of whom support a government-run national health insurance program, according to recent polling data.
A May CNN/Gallup poll found that 64 percent of Americans support a national health insurance program "even if this would require higher taxes."
A January NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that 53 percent of Americans "would be willing to pay higher taxes so that everyone can have health insurance."
The same poll found that a plurality - 48 percent - think it's a good idea to "require residents with higher incomes to pay for coverage and state funding that would be used to help cover residents with lower incomes."
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