The Public Option Is Back, Again

By
Photo: Getty Images

And just like that, the public option is back. After the Senate Finance Committee approved a health-care bill without a public option last week, Majority Leader Harry Reid is on the verge of reviving it. It's an attempt by the Democrats to end their passive, wait-and-see approach to nailing down the public option, which Reid thinks every member of his party will go for as long as the bill includes a way for states to opt out.

Getting every Democrat is essential to reaching a filibusterproof 60 votes. Reid thinks Democrats can get there, especially because those who oppose the option will have the ability to vote for an amendment to strip it from the bill. The amendment would need 60 votes, which it won't get, to remove the public option from the bill. The effect: Centrist Dems get to vote for health care and still say they opposed the public option.

But just as Reid was making his way to the White House to get President Obama's support tonight, centrist senators including Ben Nelson, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, and Mary Landrieu banded together to resist the public option. “There are a lot of senators from both sides of the aisle who have a sense of unease about all the bills that have been reported out of committees thus far. In a 60-vote scenario, it is the centrists potentially who will hold the balance of power,” Collins said.

And so it goes, round and round, with a small cadre of senators from small states deciding the future of health-care reform. This is starting to sound familiar. Meanwhile, reports out of Washington are questioning Nancy Pelosi's confidence over the public option's prospects in the House. "We will have a bill that will go to the floor and it will have a public option in it and there is support in our caucus to do that," she said yesterday. "I have said that over and over again and I stand by it." But Politico reports that she and other Democratic leaders think that a robust public option is "wishful thinking," because the moderates in the House are going to have the same amount of outsize influence as they have in the Senate. While Reid is confident, Pelosi is skeptical.

At a meeting last night between Obama and Democratic leadership, the president indicated he was in favor of the so-called "public-option trigger" favored by Maine senator Olympia Snowe. But at least one House leader is still optimistic about a strong government health plan: "The leadership did not tell progressives last night that the robust public option is off the table," a top Dem told Politico. "The votes are still being counted."

Senate Majority Leader Reid Leaning Toward ‘Public Option’ for Insurance [Prescriptions/NYT]
Nancy Pelosi lacks votes for most sweeping public option [Politico]