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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Public Option: More Chances Ahead

It’s a bummer that Sen. Rockefeller’s more robust public option was voted down (8-15) — almost 2-1 — in the Senate Finance Committee, despite Dems being 60 percent of the U.S. Senate. How large a majority do we need before we can pass a bill that provides a genuine public option for health insurance?
Worse, Chuck Shumer’s “level playing field” amendment, in which the public option is modified to the point where it is no drain of reimbursements from rural hospitals, also failed 10-13. (Carper and Nelson voted with the other Dems on this one.)
No doubt there will be calls for the heads of Sens. Max Baucus, Blanche Lincoln, Kent Conrad, Tom Carper and Bill Nelson, who voted with the Republicans and are now being attacked around the blogosphere for being leading recipients of health insurance donations. It’s not quite fair to demonize them as rubber stamps for the Republicans, inasmuch as their most recent (’08) ADA ratings show them to be fairly progressive: Baucus 80; Carper 85; ; Conrad 90; Lincoln 80; and Nelson 75, all of which are way higher than Republican Grassley’s 25, for example. Still many, if not most, Democrats feel the public option ought to be a cornerstone of Democratic health care principles.
At this point, opponents of the public option are reduced to a version of the “slippery slope” argument, which says in essence that “even though it would not be available to all that many consumers, the public option should be opposed because it sets a bad precedent by expanding government’s role at the expense of for-profit business.” I doubt that any of the five senators actually believe this so strongly as a matter of principle; it’s more because they can get away with voting against it. Unfortunately Dems against the public option are over-represented on the Senate Finance Committee.
I understand the strong feelings of betrayal many Dems feel about the votes of the five. But after all of the splenetic denunciations of the five have been uttered, we are left with the fact that we are a Big Tent party, and tolerating differences of opinion on various legislative reforms is necessary, if we want to hold a majority. But, as Ed has persuasively argued, party discipline should kick in on cloture votes in a big way. No Democrat should be able to screw his party on a cloture vote without paying a significant price.
One thing is clear. With few exceptions, Dems have not done a great job of educating the public — to the point where these Senators would feel secure with their constituents in supporting the public option. Limp constituent education remains the Dems’ Achilles’ heel. Yes, the trifling, servile MSM bears much of the blame. But it’s still on us to do something about it.
The public option may not be toast just yet. Shailagh Murray and Lori Montgomery report in The Washington Post that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid may insert a public option when he has to merge the Finance Committee’s bill with Senate health committee legislation (approved in July), which includes a government plan. If Reid, who Murray and Montgomery report is undecided at present, omits a public option, it’s supporters will try to amend the bill when it gets to the Senate floor. They have another shot at it during final negotiations with the House, where Speaker Pelosi, a strong public option advocate, can use her leverage to insert the provision. In addition, as Ed notes below, there is always the problematic budget reconciliation route. And who knows, a “triggered” public option amendment might gain traction before it’s all over. In any case, five Democrats ought not to be empowered to thwart the will of an overwhelming majority of Democrats — and the majority of Americans who support the public option.

One comment on “The Public Option: More Chances Ahead

  1. janinsanfran on

    All well and good — but I hope Democrats who support the public option and have worked hard to elect more Democrats will also do the obvious: give political donations ONLY to Dems who agree with them and freeze out the DSCC, the DCCC and the DNC who would fund office holders who might as well be Republicans, except for the D after their name.
    Case in point — no reason to help Harry Reid try to survive in Nevada in 2010 unless he comes through for the majority of his party, not his cowardly caucus. And yes, I’ve worked in Nevada.


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