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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Public Option: Two Setbacks, Long Way To Go

As you may have heard by now, the Senate Finance Committee voted down two different amendments adding a public option to its health care reform bill. The first, offered by Jay Rockefeller, was a so-called “robust” public option linked closely to Medicare. It went down 8 to 15, with all the Republicans and five Democrats voting nay. The second, offered by Chuck Schumer, was the “level-playing-field” public option, which would compete with private plans but without forcing down provider payments to Medicare levels. It picked up two senators, Tom Carper and Bill Nelson, who voted against the Rockefeller amendment, but lost 10 to 13 as Democratic senators Baucus, Lincoln and Conrad still voted no.
After the second vote, Schumer concluded rather obviously that there weren’t 60 votes in the Senate for the public option. That’s not the same, of course, as saying there are 60 votes to filibuster a bill with the public option (which could still reach the floor after the Finance and HELP bills are merged) , and should Senate leaders decide to pursue the budget reconciliation route, 60 votes aren’t necessary anyway. And ultimately, 60 votes for a bill with the public option in the Senate isn’t the same as 60 votes for a conference committee report including the public option, if the alternative is to kill health reform entirely. On top of everything else, a “triggered” public option, for those who consider that acceptable, remains a very live possibility.
So there’s a long way to go on this issue. But today’s votes, predictable as they were, may represent a shock to progressives who thought that public opinion polls and activist pressure would make Democratic opposition to the public option melt away.

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