Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Public Option Playbook

TPMDC's Brian Beutler takes a look ahead at the future of the public option after yesterday's twin defeats in the Senate Finance Committee.

Soon, Reid will have to decide whether or not to import the HELP Committee's public option into the package he brings to the floor. If he does, it would completely shift the onus on to the skeptics. As it stands liberals are forced to make the push for the public option; if Reid adopts it, conservative Democrats would be smoked out: either they'd have to accept it, or come out strongly against it by voting with Republicans to strip it, or by filibustering the entire bill.

But he probably won't do that. So what then?

Assuming he doesn't (a safe assumption) there will be more amendments, and, soon enough, the entire Democratic caucus will have to go on the record anyhow. More than that, they'll have to decide whether a public option is worth filibustering. That will be a key test of party unity.

And to take things one step further still, if a public option is not in the final bill that passes the Senate, Democratic leaders could still adopt one in negotiations with the House of Representatives. Maybe they will and maybe they won't, but if they do, then conservative Democrats will have to decide yet again whether it's worth tanking the entire reform project over the inclusion of a fairly modest provision.

That's a lot of choke points, and a lot of pressure on public option skeptics. So while it's much too early to predict what will happen, it's also extremely premature to say the public option fight is over. As you can see, there are much more favorable battlefields ahead.

And while Beutler is right on the fights to come, the whole point is that there shouldn't be Democrats fighting against this in the first place.

The public option is a no-brainer, folks. It will save Americans money, it will lower health care costs by giving insurance companies competition, and it will make more affordable health care more widely available to millions of Americans, yet with sixty Senators, Democrats are whining that they just don't think a bill with the public option has the votes to pass.

In other words, there are Democrats that plan to filibuster the bill or vote against the bill if it has the public option in it. That's a problem. And it's one that the Democratic leadership better make clear to the rank and file that failure to pass a real reform bill will cost a lot of Democrats their job in 2010 and 2012.

BooMan has more:

The ideal situation from a parliamentary point of view is to include the HELP version of the public option in the base bill, and then force the opponents to strip it out with an amendment. But that might not work out for the best. For example, if the Senate has a knock-down drag-out fight over the public option and defeats it, it will be harder to get them to turn around and support it if it comes back at them in the Conference Report. The liberal majority in the Senate Democratic Caucus might be better served to save their ammunition. Pass whatever can pass without a lot of fuss and then fight like hell to include the House's public option in the Conference Report. I could go either way on the strategy. The most important thing is that the progressives in the House hold firm in their pledge to vote against a Conference Report that doesn't have a public option. They must make sure it is included in the House bill and they must prevail for its inclusion in the Report.

If they do, the only way they can fail is if there are Democrats (or Lieberman) in the Senate who will filibuster this at the end of the process. And, if that happens, we just go to the reconciliation process. I don't sense that the administration is wobbly on this at all, although I'm sure they are plenty nervous. They are a lot of balls in the air at the moment, and anything can still go wrong.

But that still means Democrats will be the ones killing this bill, not Republicans. It may be the best chance for real reform to pass, but if it fails, the Democrats will take the blame, not the Republicans.

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