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A few more takes on the Finance Committee's rejection of the public option

September 29, 2009 - by Donny Shaw

Earlier I posted my initial take on the Finance Committee’s rejection today of two amendments that would have added a public option plan to their bill. Basically, I said that health care reform is at a critical juncture – either the Finance Committee somehow reports out a bill that can get 60 votes on the floor, or the Democrats go the reconciliation route and pass a bill with a strong public option.

I’m seeing a lot of differing takes filtering in tonight on where things stand with the public option. Here are a few.

Chris Bowers at OpenLeft says budget reconciliation is not on the table and that the future of the public option now lies in the hands of those who will negotiate the bill that comes to the floor, specifically the White House:

It is all up to the White House now. If it pushes for a public option to be included in the health care bill sent to the Senate floor, then a public option will pass as part of health care reform (at that point, all we would need are 60 votes for cloture, and from what I hear we have 57 already). However, if it allows a health care bill to go to the floor without a public option, it is pretty unlikely that a public option will pass as part of health care reform. Here is why:

  • Amendments won’t work. There simply is not any good chance of adding a public option to the Senate bill through floor amendments, because the 60-vote process will be in effect for floor amendments. While we might have 60 votes for cloture on a health care bill that includes a public option, we do not have 60 votes for a public option all by itself.
  • Conference committee (almost certainly) won’t work. Even if the House passes a public option, which they are highly likely to do, do not expect them to overpower the Senate in conference committee. This is because the Senate will already have voted down adding a public option via amendment, and the White House will have already demonstrated that it isn’t going to demand the public option in the final bill. It wil be difficult to convince them to change their mind by the conference committee.

David Waldman at Congress Matters has a pessimistic view for advocates of the public option. He doesn’t seem to think budget reconciliation is off the table, but he doesn’t expect it and, based on recent history, he sees conservative factions winning from here on out:

But the most probable future for that fight is that the vehicle that goes to the floor in the Senate will, like the FISA bill a few years ago, have as its baseline all the conservative preferences, with the progressive preferences on the outside, fighting to get in. And in all likelihood, that will also mean facing the “painless filibuster,” that is, an agreement among the parties that any public option amendment will require 60 votes to succeed. Then the public option amendment will pick up about 54 votes or so, fail, and we’ll all get e-mail newsletters from Senate Democrats talking about how hard they tried.

What happens after that is anyone’s guess. Will Dems pass a bill with an individual mandate, lousy subsidies, and no public option, that results in skyrocketing prices, pitiful “customer” service (are you really a “customer” if you’re only buying because the federal government forces you to?), and will that bill end up being electoral poison? If so, it’ll be slow-acting poison, because so far it looks like you might not know exactly how bad it is until 2013.

Could Finance Dems revolt and prevent the committee from reporting this bill out? Well, yes. But in order to make any headway with that, they’ll have to succeed in something no one’s been able to do so far, which is to reverse the flow of pressure in DC. While it’s clearly true that nothing can come out of committee unless either progressive votes accept a conservative bill, or vice versa, for some reason it always seems to work out in favor of conservatives. Somehow, no one has ever been able to say to conservatives, “Yeah? Well if you want a bill to come out, then you have to try to amend it on the floor.”

Ezra Klein has a nuanced take. First, he wonders if conservative Democrats would really join in a filibuster of a health care bill, supported by President Obama, that contains a public option. But he also sees in today’s Finance Committee negotiations an instance of pre-negotiating by Democratic leaders to the detriment of a strong bill:

Second, why give up the public option now? If these moderates want to kill the measure, let them get full credit for doing so on the floor. They can sponsor an amendment to strip it out of the final legislation and go home to their districts having played a clear and undeniable role in the elimination of the public option.

Instead, Baucus and Conrad did the work for them, all the while protesting that they didn’t oppose the public option. Now the moderate bloc will need to extract something else in an eleventh-hour bargain to show that they applied their centrist convictions to the legislation. Baucus makes it sound as though he’s attempting to ensure a deal. But in reality, he’s just depriving the centrists of the ability to make their deal. That means they’ll have to make a different one, and the bill will get worse twice rather than once.

Robert Creamer at the Huffington Post has the ultra-optimistic take:

In a surprising vote Tuesday, ten Democrats voted to add a public option to the most conservative of the five health insurance reform bills working their way through Congress. That’s just two votes short of passage.

This robust support for the public option — in what most observers consider the most conservative committee in the Senate — signals a sea change in Congressional opinion toward the public option. The odds are now very high that some form of public health insurance option will be included on the final bill when it emerges from a House-Senate Conference Committee later this fall and is ultimately passed by Congress.

The three bills that have passed House Committees, and the Senate Health Committee bill, all contain a public option. And increasingly it appears that the strongest form of public option will come out of the House.
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