Can a Loss on Public Option Actually Be a Win?

Sep 29, 2009 11:20am

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: Proponents of a “public option” as part of a health care reform package are girding for a setback today in the Senate Finance Committee, where two such proposals seem certain to go be rejected. Yet they’re not all that disappointed. Backers of such proposals are arguing that getting a majority of the committee’s  13 Democrats on board would itself be a victory. It would signal that, despite widespread predictions of the death of a public option, the possibility of it being included in a final bill remains very real. “If we can get a good majority of Democrats voting in favor of one or both of the options, we’ve got the momentum we need,” said Jacki Schechner, communications director for the advocacy group Health Care for America Now. “A strong showing is really all we need at this point.” Schechner said her group is hoping for seven or eight Democrats to support public-option amendments today. That, she said, would demonstrate that Democrats who oppose the concept are in the minority even on a relatively conservative committee, and would likely galvanize organizing efforts to pressure Democratic moderates. Clearly, backers of a public option would rather win such votes than lose them. But the bill produced by the Senate Finance Committee has always been expected to be the most conservative draft out there, so the lack of a public option in that bill doesn’t mean the game is over. The other four versions of the bill — three in the House and one in the Senate — do include some version of a public option. Backers hope that Senate Democratic leaders press for a public plan to compete with private insurers in the final Senate bill, or in conference committee negotiations with the House. Tea-leaf readers are pleased to see Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the Senate’s third-ranking Democrat, pressing for a public option in committee, and promising to continue the fight beyond, in the full Senate. That sends a signal that Senate leadership considers the proposal very much on the table, notwithstanding the difficulties of getting 60 votes. One vote today that will be watched particularly closely will belong to that of Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont. Baucus has come out in favor of a public option in principle in the past, though the draft of his bill did not include any such proposal. Liberal groups are already advertising to pressure Baucus on the public option in his home state, and would almost certainly escalate their efforts if Baucus votes against amendments to include a public option. UPDATE: The committee voted 15-8 this afternoon to reject Sen. Jay Rockefeller's proposal for a public option, meaning supporters got a majority of Democrats, but nowhere close to a majority of all committee members. Baucus was among the "no" votes — though he suggested strongly that he'd vote "yes" if he thought such a measure could pass the Senate. "My job is to put together a bill that becomes law," Baucus said, per ABC's Z. Byron Wolf. “I can count. Nobody has shown me a bill with a public option that gets to 60. So I am constrained to vote against the amendment."

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