When in doubt, I turn to Chris Bowers. He didn't disappoint me - he had ready a step-by-step explanation of what needs to happen to get the public opt
September 30, 2009

When in doubt, I turn to Chris Bowers. He didn't disappoint me - he had ready a step-by-step explanation of what needs to happen to get the public option in the bill sent to the Senate floor:

The bad news is that we learned today that the Senate Finance Committee will not report a public option in its version of health care reform. The good news is that we also learned today that there are 51 votes in favor of Schumer's public option. Here is how we get to 51:

  1. Take the 47 "yes" votes from the Washington Independent public option scorecard.
  2. Add Bill Nelson and Tom Carper, who both voted for Schumer's public option today;
  3. Add Claire McCaskill (who voted for Kennedy's HELP public option back in May);
  4. Add Joe Biden

Arguably, proving that there are 51 votes in favor of Schumer's public option is the bigger news. This is because everyone knew the public option would be defeated in committee, but claims that there were 51 votes in favor of a trigger-less public option were pretty much all based on a post I wrote two weeks ago.

Because Democrats are not going to pursue reconciliation for the public option (see why here), the next step in the process does not actually involve Kent Conrad's Budget Committee, as I had previously reported. Instead, a source on the Hill confirms to me that the Senate HELP and Senate Finance committees will be merged by an informal, behind the scenes process involving the four major players in the Senate: Tom Harkin (Chair of HELP), Max Baucus (Chair of Finance), Harry Reid (Majority Leader), and the White House. Together, these four will meet and decide what sort of bill to send to the Senate floor.

During this process, we can guarantee that Harkin will push for a HELP or Schumer-like public option to be sent to the floor, while Baucus will push for no public option to be in the bill at all. Given his recent statements, the best bet is that Reid will probably push against a public option too, and instead favor either triggers (which he has called a good idea) or co-ops (which seems to be the sort of public option he likes best). With two against and one in favor, this means that the only way a public option ends up in the bill that is sent to the Senate floor will be if the fourth major player, the White House, demands it.

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.

So, it is all about the White House demanding a public option in the process of merging the Senate HELP and Senate Finance Committee. So, we are going to have to start putting pressure on the White House itself.

The best source of pressure the White House can feel on this will come from the Progressive Block. If they can produce a hard count of 39 Progressives who will vote against health care reform without a public option, it is difficult to imagine any amount of phone calls, faxes, emails and petitions to the White House that would equal that pressure. While we all need to bring whatever pressure we can, as expected all along, the Progressive Block taking a hard line is our best option for the public option.

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