Future of Public Option Update

by Jonathan Bernstein

Bill Halter is probably not going to be the next Senator from Arkansas.  He'd have to knock off an incumbent (Blanche Lincoln), which would be I think a fairly surprising upset, and then he'd still be a longshot in the general election -- Arkansas isn't an especially friendly place for Democrats these days.

That said, by endorsing the public option he's providing useful evidence that a future Democratic Congress is very likely to add a public option to health care reform, or at least they will if the current Democratic Congress manages to enact health care reform this year. 

In fact, I expect virtually every Democrat in contested primaries during this and (if still not enacted) the next campaign cycle to support the public option, at least in any district in which Democrats have a chance to win.  The main exceptions will be incumbents such as Lincoln who already voted against it...and I won't be shocked if she switches.  In a Democratic primary, I don't see any potential downside.  Liberals love it, and for better or worse Democrats don't believe that it will be a general election liability.  

The other part of this is that the public option should be eligible for a reconciliation bill, so it won't take sixty Democrats to get it done.

So for all you public option fans out there: it ain't gonna happen this year, but if the Democrats hold Congress there's a good chance that it will be law by the time the exchanges are up and working.  Assuming, of course, that the bill passes.

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