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Public Option Rejected Twice - What Happens Next?

September 29, 2009 - by Donny Shaw

The Senate Finance Committee’s health care bill officially will not include a public option. Today, the Committee rejected two separate amendments to add a public option plan to the bill. The Rockefeller public option amendment, which is similar to the “robust” version contained in the House bill, failed on a vote of 15-8. The toned-down Schumer version, which is not tied to Medicare reimbursement rates, was rejected as well. The Finance Committee bill’s chief Democratic architects – Sen. Max Baucus [D, MT] and Sen. Kent Conrad [D, ND] – secured the failure of the Schumer amendment by voting against it.

Sen. Conrad, the main proponent of the co-op plan, voted “no” on Schumer’s amendment even after stating that it was “moving much closer to a package that can get 60 votes on the floor.”

As it stands, the Senate Finance Committee health care bill wouldn’t get the 60 votes needed on the Senate floor to break a Republican filibuster. No Republicans support it, and Sen. Jay Rockefeller [D, WV] has said that he and four to six other Finance Committee Democrats would oppose it unless big changes are made in the amendment process. We’re in the middle of the second week of the mark-up now, and so far the bill hasn’t changed at all.

The only big amendment left with a chance of passing is Snowe’s “trigger.” Basically, her idea is to add a mechanism, on top of Baucus’ co-op plan, that would trigger the creation of a public option in states where insurance coverage isn’t expanded enough once the bill’s other reforms take effect. If it passes, it will be a signal to Democratic leaders that there is a grand compromise to be struck around this “trigger” idea. It will become the basis for the health care bill that finally comes to the Senate floor.

But if it doesn’t, Senate Democrats will likely push forward with a Democrats-only bill, containing a public option, that they can pass with a tactic that lets them block a filibutser, known as budget reconciliation. As Schumer noted today, right now the aren’t 60 votes on the Senate floor to overcome a Republican filibuster of a bill that includes a public option.

This creates an incentive for the six or so Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee who oppose their committee’s public option-less bill to vote against Snowe’s trigger. If the Snowe amendment fails, the whole Senate Finance Committee bill fails because it stays unchanged from what it was initially – a rough “compromise” that lost too much support off both the left and the right to actually be viable.

The only one choice remaining for Senate Democrats to pass health care reform at that point will be budget reconciliation.

Conveniently for the progressives, including the six or so on the Senate Finance Committee, the rules governing budget reconciliation provide an incentive for the bill to be as progressive as possible. Under the budget reconciliation process’ “Byrd Rule,” only legislation that has a direct effect on the budget is eligible to pass without being susceptible to a filibuster. The ruling on this would be made by the Senate Parliamentarian, and it’s not clear how he would rule on health care reform. This has been written about over and over on this blog and many others by now. It basically means that a “robust” public option will help make health care reform eligible for budget reconciliation. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that including a public option tied to Medicare reimbursments rates (a.k.a. a “robust” one) in the bill would save the government $125 billion over 10 years. It’s something that experts have concluded over and over again will work. And if they go through budget reconciliation, the Democratic leadership’s goal will switch from assembling a bill designed to pass with the support of moderates, to assembling a bill designed to work well and drive down costs. It’s a bit of a gamble, but a “robust” public option improves the odds significantly.

So, the progressives in the Senate face a historic decision it their vote on the Snowe amendment when it comes up this week. Continue letting the bill’s provisions drift to the right until there is something, weak as it may be, that they know can pass, or sink the compromise and put all cards on the table for a bill that they know will be strong, but can’t be positive will pass.

As for who these six or progressives in the Finance Committee that Rockefeller refers to are, it’s safe to assume that they are among those who supported the Rockefeller amendment today. They were Rockefeller, Schumer, Bingaman, Wyden, Stabenow, Menendez, Kerry and Cantwell.

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  • Larryb 09/29/2009 4:46pm
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    + -1

    This bill HR45 is going to start a rev. in this country like it has never seen. If u think this bill will work please tell me was D.C. lying to us when they say people wer shot on the street. I really dont understand how that can be true because guns were baned there so there were non right. Which is it ?

  • Anonymous 09/29/2009 4:58pm

    This is ridiculous! The Rockefeller public option amendment and Sen. Schumer’s version were still too conservative for the bill to any good as representing healthcare reform. The Senate Republicans struck regardless, for the same non-sense reason of government “takeover.” Today at the Committee meeting, instead of looking at the bill in fair-light, they maneuvered/trapped themselves around the using of information and the dangerous of it. They brought out some obvious commonsense issues of control/information and stuck with it for the entire meeting as an excuse not taking the public option!! I don’t get it. They had struck down many healthcare efforts in the past, such as Medicaid. But its survival has proved that the senate republicans were wrong. Now this??! Senate Democrats ought to step up and make this reform right for the people!

  • CMBrooks 09/29/2009 6:11pm

    Oh, legislators! Isn’t this the time for action? Has not the President warned that the time for games is over? Get moving, people, or the American people’s faith and trust in government will be irrevocably eroded!

  • Anonymous 09/30/2009 6:15am

    Could it be that the whole healthcare debate is one enormous distraction from something else? It is possible.

    I think our faith and trust in the gov has been eroded for quite awhile.

  • Anonymous 10/17/2009 6:31am

    Too late, I have already lost my faith in this government to act in the interest of the people it represents. I have nothing but contempt for those sitting in the position of power – whose circle of friends probably don’t include those who have lost their jobs, have no health insurance, has a home in foreclosure, or facing any other REAL injustice – and will not stand up for their good. Come on, Congress! Open your eyes and see the heartache this country is going through. Do something that will actually HELP the people you say you represent!

  • becauseican 10/19/2011 2:39am

    Strange how our legislators can approve this type of law without adequate ways to fund it. In order to make healthcare work, they need to put limits on medical liability claims, allow drugs to come to market easier, and allow easier entry into our medical and nursing schools before we can ever have cost efficient medical care.
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