Rep. King: Healthcare reform 'not a major issue among the American people'

Healthcare reform isn't a top priority for Americans, one prominent House Republican suggested Monday.

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee who is also mulling a run for Senate in 2010, said that the tide has turned toward the GOP in the healthcare debate, but that his party should avoid "going for the kill."

"This is not a major issue among the American people," King said of the reform efforts during an appearance on MSNBC. "When you ask Americans what issues are important to them, healthcare does not rank high."

King argued that the issue itself does not rank highly, and Americans only say they want the health system reformed when prompted.

"If you ask Americans if they want healthcare reform, they'll say 'yes,'" King said. "But then when you talk about what healthcare reform means, it's not what Barack Obama wants."

King said the GOP had gained momentum from opposing the plan, but had to avoid trying to "kill" the president's initiative, and instead lay out Republican alternatives on healthcare.

"We have to avoid acting as if we won this battle," King asserted. "Right now, the voters are turning somewhat against Barack Obama. That doesn't mean they're coming toward us."

"We have to play this very effectively, but not be going for the kill," he added. "We're just layout out our plan and why we believe the president's wrong."

Update: 10:10 a.m.: Shripal Shah, Northeast Regional Press Secretary for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), responds:

This latest display of Peter King's erratic behavior proves that he is out of touch with his constituents and the American people.

Everyone but Peter King seems to recognize the need to bring down the cost of health insurance. It's time for him to get his head out of the sand and live up to his responsibilities to his constituents by working for health insurance reform that will lower costs and increase access to care.