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Americans Historically Resistant to Reform

It was by any measure a rough week for congressional Democrats.

"Members of Congress are getting more than an earful," political professor Larry Sabato, who directs the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, told CBS News Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson for CBS' "Sunday Morning." "They're getting a belly full."

And the loudest belly-achers got a boost from the media, Sabato said.

"Whenever you have people yelling and screaming and shouting, there's hype involved, and the coverage always exaggerates those who do the shouting," Sabato said. "It's the most exciting television. Let's face it. It gets on and is replayed over and over. So there is some hype, and that's why it gets on but it's wrong to suggest there are no legitimate concerns."

Sabato said the frustration has been months in the making.

"It's about a whole range of issues that started to develop last November after Barack Obama's election," Sabato said. "Then as Obama started making appointments, getting a stimulus bill passed, proposing a health care initiative, all of this further irritated the 46 percent who voted against him … You can almost see that the anger and frustration have built up month after month, and it's exploded, and the proximate cause of the explosion is health care."

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It seems like health care reform is something the public loves and at the same time the public hates. You constantly hear people talk about how expensive their insurance is, how bad their medical plans are, but as soon as there's talk of health care reform it's like people freeze up.

"It's so complicated you can always finds something in the weeds to make people frightened," Brown University political science professor James Marone said.

Marone is co-author of a book about presidents and health-care reform, including former President Johnson's fight for Medicare.

"We have some wonderful telephone tapes in which Johnson described to a newly elected Ted Kennedy how to get Medicare passed," Marone said. "He said, 'Don't let 'em cost it out. Don't let 'em project the costs down the line. It'll kill you.' He thought that if people knew the full costs of Medicare it would never have passed, and he kept trying to lowball the estimates. And this was before the Office of Management and Budget. But we believe - we say in the book - that if we knew the costs, Medicare, one of the two most popular programs in America never would have passed."

Now we do know the price tag for health-care reform - hundreds of billions - and for millions of voters, it's a tough pill to swallow.

"The one problem we have that we didn't have in the mid 60's is the debt and deficit," Sabato said. "And I really think that's what's causing many moderate Americans who would otherwise favor health care reform to step back and wonder whether it's true that the president will sign a bill that won't raise the deficit. That's easy to say but our whole modern experience is that every government program ends up costing a lot more than projected and that it does indeed add to the deficit and the debt."

And that could give health care opponents plenty to yell about in the days to come.

"Do you think we're destined to repeat this pattern, where we complain about our health care and by the end maybe don't do anything major about it?" Attkisson asked Marone.

"It actually does seem like Groundhog Day through the years," Marone said. "But I actually think the problems are so acute they keep coming back on the agenda and that sooner or later - well, it's like Winston Churchill says: 'Count on Americans to do the right thing, after they've exhausted all other possibilities.'"
By CBS News Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson
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    Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News investigative correspondent based in Washington.