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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Public Option Needs 2-3 Votes to Advance

For some reason the MSM doesn’t do such a hot job of telling you what you really want to know about how the votes on the public option in health care reform are lining up in the Senate Finance Committee. For that you turn to Open Left‘s Chris Bowers, who usually has the most sober assessment. Here’s Bowers on a key vote, which may happen today:

All 10 Republicans on the Finance Committee, including Olympia Snowe, are expected to vote against both public option amendments. Eight Democrats are highly likely to be yes votes: Bingaman (NM), Cantwell (WA), Kerry (MA), Menendez (NJ), Schumer (NY), Stabenow (MI), Rockefeller (WV), and Wyden (OR). It took a lot of organizing to even get that far, given the reluctance of Bingaman, Cantwell, Kerry and Wyden at times.
The other five members of the committee are difficult to predict, given that they have been all over the map on the public option this year. To pass a public option through the committee, four of the following five will need to vote in favor:
1. Baucus (MT). Should be a yes given his stated and past support for the public option. However, he could be a no to defend the draft of the bill he released, and out of a continuing belief that the public option can’t pass the Senate.
2. Carper (DE): Has said that he opposes a non-trigger public option. I expect him to vote that way, even though he is from a pretty blue state.
3. Conrad (ND): Has assiduously avoided taking a position on the public option, instead stating over and over again that there are not 60 votes for it. Well, now we finally will learn if Conrad was just talking about himself all along. As chairman of the Budget committee that will merge the Senate Finance and HELP bills, how Conrad votes will be huge. I am suspicious Conrad might vote “yes” to save face and seem like a good-faith negotiator on the co-op.
4. Lincoln (AR): Blanche Lincoln appears to have recently flipped from supporting the public option to opposing it. She really has been all over the map during this entire debate. I think about the best we can hope for is that she votes yes on the public option in committee, and yes on the cloture vote, but then no on the floor vote.
5. Nelson (FL): Perhaps more silent on the public option than any member of the Senate. He has, however, called public option supporters idiots, and said that he believes a public option can’t pass. I am not confident on this vote.

Bowers sees a 3-2 toss-up among these five as the most likely outcome, so today is a really big deal for public option advocates. On MSNBC last night, Senator Shumer said that the Senate Finance Committee may be the crucial hurdle of the legislative battle to enact health care reform with a public option, because centrist Dems are stronger in this committee than on other committees or on a floor vote.
Here’s where an organized, disciplined network of progressive citizen lobbyists could really help. Press a button and activate progressives and other public option supporters to deluge the key Senators in MT, DE, ND, AR and FL with phone calls, faxes, emails and personal visits to district offices, urging them to step up and vote for the public option. There should also be a role for out-of-state progressives who want to get involved, such as a phone bank to mobilize supporters in the targeted states. Unions, MoveOn and other organizations do this on a smaller scale from time to time. But there ought to be a larger-scale effort, perhaps a coalition, funded appropriately.
To give the MSM it’s due, the WSJ has a handy chart depicting the differences between the health care reform proposals of: Sen. Baucus; the Senate HELP Committee; the House Democratic Bill; the House Republican Outline; and President Obama. Also recommended is Ezra Klein’s informative WaPo interview with Sen. Kent Conrad

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