Will Tossing the Public Option Work?

Does the public option omission get Obama the votes he needs?

This article is from the archive of our partner .

A consequence of President Obama's apparent willingness to drop the "public option" from the health-care reform bill is that progressives are enraged. The question, however, remains: will it bring enough votes from the right to break a potential filibuster, without losing too many votes from the left? Left-leaning bloggers, the New York Times editorial board, and the National Review's Rich Lowry are all mulling this one over.

  • A Brilliant Tactical Move, thinks Noam Scheiber of the New Republic, one of the few nearly gleeful over the proposed public option omission. "Obama now looks like the centrist voice of reason." Furthermore, if Obama doesn't get a public option in Congress, "he was never going to get it. And now he can extract a ton of concessions in return, because he can point to a left-wing of his party that's ready to eat him alive for failing to deliver on it. [...] That kind of leverage is extremely helpful." 
  • Maybe, Maybe Not  Progressive Matthew Yglesias of Think Progress isn't so sure, though he calls Scheiber's scenario "plausible." In an earlier post he wrote that, were the Senate "prepared to pass a bill" with nearly everything a liberal might desire save the public option, he would "have a hard time believing that House liberals [would] really kill the bill." Regarding Scheiber's writings, though, he adds: "the known unknown in all of this is do centrist Democratic Senators really want to pass a health care bill or don't they?" If they do, he suggests, "this bit of noise" may give them the "political cover they need." If they don't, "we're just looking at more smokescreen and delay."
  • On Rules and Numbers  Stan Collender of Capital Gains and Games and Kevin Drum of Mother Jones are desperately trying to figure out how the various options work out in practice. Drum summarizes the situation:
Quick background: Republicans will filibuster any healthcare bill that reaches the floor of the Senate, and it takes 60 votes to break a filibuster.  If a healthcare bill includes a public option provision, it's vanishingly unlikely that we can find those 60 votes.  But budget reconciliation bills can't be filibustered, so an alternative is to include the public option but then introduce the bill via the reconciliation process, where it needs only 50 votes to pass.
  • There's A Problem with the Byrd Rule, apparently, as Collender explains regarding the above "reconciliation process": "For those who don't know, the Byrd Rule, named for West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd, was designed to prevent filibuster-proof reconciliation from being used to pass things in the Senate that had nothing to do with the budget." So what would "trigger" the Byrd Rule? "The question isn't at all clear cut," Collender says. Kevin Drum is not nuts about the odds of all this working out. Pessimistic on Harry Reid's chance of getting 60 votes to break a filibuster on the public option version of the bill, he sees the "terra incognita" of the "reconciliation route" as an even messier option, likely ending up with a "complete hash of a bill that will end up so unworkable it can't pass at all. Like it or not (and I don't!), we need 60 votes to get healthcare through the Senate. The question is how best to do that."
  • Too Little, Too Late  The National Review's Rich Lowry likes the idea of ditching the public option, in theory, but takes his readers on an impressively clear and insightful tour of the present political quagmire. "The question," he muses, "is whether Obama has already waited too long to dump it. He's poisoned the well with Republicans who are disinclined to sign on to anything big, and he may have ruined his health care brand with the center." Laying out the possible problems, Lowry concludes: "It's not inconceivable that the entire effort could collapse."
  • The New York Times Enters the Fray  The editors of the New York Times are pitching their tent in the progressive camp. "We are frankly skeptical," they wrote, "that any compromise will be enough to satisfy Republican opponents of health care reform." So what is the editors' recommendation? "If the White House and Democratic leaders decide to go it alone, and they may have to, they should restore a robust public plan. It is the best way to give Americans real choice."

We'll find out soon enough which of these folks were right, and in what ways.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.