Public Option Update

After months of foot-dragging, obstructionism, and a snipe-hunt for Republican votes, it's finally official; there will be no public option in the Senate Finance Committee's healthcare reform bill. It was defeated. Twice.

O! Woe be unto the supporters of government-run healthcare, let their lamentations begin, for there are now only four other bills passed by five House and Senate committees that include some form of a public option. 80% of all healthcare legislation now includes the option, with the sole exception being this one -- which is by no stretch of the imagination the final bill. Clearly, we are doomed.

First, Jay Rockefeller's amendment was defeated 15-8. Then Chuck Schumer's less liberal version went down 13-10. "To come up only two votes shy in the Finance Committee, the most difficult terrain for this proposal in the whole Congress, makes us increasingly optimistic that we can pass a bill with a good public option in the end," Schumer said afterward. "We had more votes at the end of the day than we did at the beginning, and many members who aren't yet for a public option are still approaching us to seek out areas of agreement."

Finance is "the most difficult terrain for this proposal in the whole Congress" because it has the largest number of conservative Democrats. Once out of the committee, a government option becomes much more popular.

"[I've] polled senators, and the vast majority of Democrats -- maybe approaching 50 -- support a public option," Sen. Tom Harkin said yesterday. "So why shouldn't we have a public option? We have the votes." Twist a few arms, bang out a deal or two, and there you go -- 51.

Harkin believes that, while a Republican filibuster is almost inevitable, Democrats have 60 votes to invoke cloture -- i.e., to end the filibuster -- even if they won't have 60 votes to pass the bill. This might be putting a little too much faith in people like Sen. Joe Lieberman, but we'll see. In any case, the Senate could go to budget reconciliation, a parliamentary procedure designed to avoid partisan gridlock, and rule out the filibuster entirely. In budget reconciliation, a simple majority is required to pass a bill.

So the public option is not dead. In fact, it'd be ridiculous to say so. Blogger Chris Bowers has the whip count for a final bill with Schumer's version of the public option and sees passage:

[Sen. Tom] Carper votes in favor of Schumer public option. With Carper, Byrd and Bill Nelson, we don't even need Tester, Pryor, Begich or Baucus. 51 votes now secured for Schumer public option on Senate floor. If this public option is in the bill sent to the floor, and if that bill passes cloture, then public option will pass into law.

Unfortunately, this all means that all hopes rest on the inadequate shoulders of Harry Reid. Yesterday, the New York Times reported that the Senate Majority leader was ready to dump the public option. The article, which relied on anonymous Senate aides, reported that Reid would drop the option to appease Republican swing vote Olympia Snowe (whose vote, remember, two different whip counts show is most likely irrelevant) and an unnamed group of "Centrist Democrats."

But Reid's office was quick to shoot down the story. According to Greg Sargent, "Reid spokesman Rodell Mollineau strongly disputed the story, saying there had been no decision and indeed that the process wouldn't permit for a decision to have been made already."

"It would be wildly speculative of me to say that has been predetermined," Mollineau said. So that's the good news. The bad news was that Mollineau suggested Reid was taking a "wait and see" attitude -- as in, "wait and see how the Finance Committee's vote goes." Beyond that, Mollineau repeated what's apparently his favorite phrase.

"It would be wildly speculative of me to say what is going to be in that bill," he said. "Right now, we don’t know... We’ll have a better idea by the end of the week." So I guess it would be wildly speculative of me to say whether or not Harry Reid will pick a side any time soon. Unless there's near-unanimity for a bill -- any bill -- Harry seems to be lost as to what to do.

The good thing about Reid's fence-straddling is that it's all just a matter of tipping him over. He's going to fall on one side or the other eventually and, since he seems constitutionally incapable of making up his own mind, it's just a case of who wants it more.


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