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Public Option Still Dead... At Least For Now

March 25, 2010 - by Eric Naing

Some liberals have been pushing Democrats to include a public option in the reconciliation bill for health care (H.R.4872). The party’s response: a public option can’t be included because doing so would complicate things by forcing the House to re-vote on the updated version of the bill. So what’s going to happen now that the House has to re-vote on the bill anyway?

In the run-up to the recent House vote on health care, a decent amount of attention was paid to the a letter urging Democratic Congressmen and women to support an effort to pass a public option via reconciliation. Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid [D, NV], as you may recall, had to drop the public option from the recently signed into law Senate health care bill (H.R.3590) after failing to get the support of 60 senators. Only 51 senators, or 50 plus Vice President Biden as a tie-breaker, would be needed to pass a public option via reconciliation.

And at least theoretically, getting the House to pass the reconciliation bill once again with a public option would be simple considering that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi [D, CA-8] got 220 House Democrats to vote for a health care bill with a public option (H.R.3962) last year.

But when the rubber actually hits the road, things get more complicated. Sen. Michael Bennett [D-CO], the author of the original public option letter, is now siding with Senate Democrats to oppose any amendment – including one creating a public option – in order to ease the passage of the reconciliation bill.

Despite the fact that at least on paper, the math is on the side of public option proponents, Democrats are unlikely to want to reopen that debate today. Adding a public option to the reconciliation bill introduces a heated political debate to a process Democrats want to go as smoothly and quickly as possible. It also opens the door for more complications with the Senate parliamentarian regarding reconciliation and the Byrd Rule. Remember, just a few seemingly innocuous lines regarding student loan reform are what’s forcing the House to vote once more on a revised reconciliation bill.

Sen. Bernie Sanders [I-VT], a staunch public option supporter, echoed these concers to the New York Times:

“Is it possible that if I or somebody else introduced the public option today, that it conceivably would go back to the House and be passed?” he asked. “Is it possible? Yes. Is it possible that it would fail? Yes. Is it possible then you would not have the reconciliation bill? Absolutely. Is that a risk work taking at this moment? I think not.”

The Senate is hoping to pass the reconciliation bill soon and the House is hoping to re-pass the bill soon after that. As for the public option, the idea is more likely to be taken up by Congress at a later date. Sanders, in fact, says Reid has committed to that plan.


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