Public Option: It’s Back

Oct 22, 2009 3:17pm

ABC News' Jonathan Karl reports: The public option.  The idea was believed to be dead.  Liberals wanted it, but Senate vote counters insisted it simply could not pass the Senate.  The dynamic, however, has changed.  The public option may be back from dead.  I am told that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is leaning toward including the creation of a new government-run insurance program – the so-called public option – in the health care reform bill he will bring to the full Senate in the coming weeks. Democratic sources tell me that Reid – after a series of meetings with Democratic moderates – has concluded he can pass a bill with a public option.  This is not because there has been a new groundswell of support for the idea.  In fact, there are still a handful of Democrats who –  along with Olympia Snowe and every other Republican – oppose the idea.  As recently as this morning, Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA), for one, dismissed recent polls that show public support for the idea, telling NPR, "I think if you asked, do you want a public option but it would force the government to go bankrupt, people would say no.” That would appear to be a problem because Reid needs 60 votes to pass a health care bill and there are simply not 60 Senators who support a public option.  But Reid is now convinced that Democratic critics of the public option will support him when it counts – on the procedural motion, which requires 60 votes, to defeat a certain GOP-led filibuster of the bill.  Once the filibuster is beaten, it only takes 51 votes to pass the bill. And Democratic critics of the public option would get a chance to go on-the-record with their opposition by voting for an amendment to strip it from the health care bill.  Under Senate rules, such an amendment would need 60 votes to pass.  And while there may not be 60 votes in favor of a public option, there are also not 60 votes against it.  So, it would remain in the bill. The downside:  The move would almost certainly cost Democrats the support of Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME), the sole Republican who now supports Democratic health care reform efforts.  Asked today if she would vote to block a bill with public option, Snowe told reporters, “On the public option? I'd say I'm against a public option, so yes." Another important point: Reid’s version of the public option is different from the more liberal version advocated by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in two key ways:  1) Reid’s version would allow individual states to opt-out of the program, giving public option critics the chance to say that their states retain the right to scrap the idea; and, 2) Under Reid’s plan, the new government insurance program would have to negotiate payment rates with health care providers.  Under Pelosi’s, payment rates would be tied to the lower rates paid by Medicare.  This is not a done deal.  I am told that Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) – who worked for months to get Olympia Snowe’s support for the bill and has consistently said a public option cannot pass the Senate – was apoplectic when Reid told him he wanted to include the public option.  “Baucus went to DEFCON 1,” said a source familiar with the negotiations, referring to the alert level the military uses for an imminent attack on the homeland. UPDATE: Snowe gave an interview to Bloomberg TV today where she reiterated her opposition to the inclusion of a public option that would kick into gear immediately — and said it may not be possible to finish a bill this year. “A public option at the forefront really does put the government in a disproportionate position with respect to the industry,” Snowe said on “Political Capital With Al Hunt,” airing this weekend. She added: “Christmas might be too soon. . . . We should give it the time it deserves.” 2nd UPDATE: A spokesman for Max Baucus denied the Senator was upset with Senator Reid. "From the moment he recommended a public option in his white paper nearly a year ago, Senator Baucus has made clear he would support a public option or any other mechanism to ensure choice, competition and get the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate," said Baucus spokesman Scott Mulhauser.  Mulhauser dismissed reports of Baucus being upset as rumors, adding "I hear Jon and Kate may be getting back together if you want to chase more rumors down rabbit holes.”

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