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First Senate Dem Comes Out Against the Public Option

September 2, 2009 - by Donny Shaw

Yesterday, Sen. Blanche Lincoln [D, AR] became the first Democrat in the Senate to say flatly that she would vote against the health care bill if it includes a public option:

U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln said today she opposes a public health insurance option because it would be too expensive.

“For some in my caucus, when they talk about a public option they’re talking about another entitlement program, and we can’t afford that right now as a nation,” Lincoln said in a speech to the Elder Law Task Force at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

Lincoln has said previously she would support whatever health care plan worked, but she indicated Tuesday that a plan including an expensive, government-funded health insurance program would not get her vote.

“I’m not going to vote for a bill that’s not deficit-neutral, and I’m not going to vote for a bill that doesn’t do something about curbing the cost in the out years, because it would be pointless … I would not support a solely government-funded public option. We can’t afford that,” Lincoln told reporters before her speech.

Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman [I, CT], who caucuses with the Democrats, has said that he would prefer not to have the public option, and a handful of other Democrats have been dubious about it. Lincoln’s statement basically cements the fact that if the Democrats want a public option, they’ll have to go through reconciliation. Sen. Olympia Snowe [R, ME] is the only Republican who could possibly be willing to vote for a public option. But with Lincoln out, even if both Snowe and Lieberman voted “yes” (a very unlikely scenario), the numbers wouldn’t be there for the Democrats to overcome an inevitable filibuster.

UPDATE: TPM is asking, is Lincoln really against the public option plan that is being proposed, or is she against a version of it that’s not even on the table? It’s true that the public option plan in the House bill would be financed by individual premiums and wouldn’t cost the government anything (the $2 billion in start-up funding would get paid back). But Lincoln’s remarks that the public option would be too expensive sounds a lot like how most public-option opponents see it. I’ll update again when there is some clarification.

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