Whip Counting: Blanche Lincoln Opposes Public Option, Sort Of

Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) tells the Elder Law Task Force at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences that she won't support a solely government-funded public health insurance option, as reported by Arkansas News:

"For some in my caucus, when they talk about a public option they're talking about another entitlement program, and we can't afford that right now as a nation," Lincoln said in a speech to the Elder Law Task Force at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences...

"I'm not going to vote for a bill that's not deficit-neutral, and I'm not going to vote for a bill that doesn't do something about curbing the cost in the out years, because it would be pointless ... I would not support a solely government-funded public option. We can't afford that," Lincoln told reporters before her speech.

It's been a working assumption for some time that at least three Senate Democrats oppose a public health insurance option, the plan favored by President Obama. Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND), who was tasked with crafting a plan--e.g. his proposal for health co-ops--to bridge the divide between public-option supporters and opponents in the Democratic caucus, has given the "at least three" estimate several times.

We've been able to guess at who they are, without complete certainty. We know that Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) doesn't back it; he's not technically a Democrat, but he caucuses with the party; he could be one. As could a handful of other moderate Dems, including Conrad himself, and Lincoln.

But Lincoln isn't actually against what President Obama and most Democrats want, according to what she said. The "public option," as it's generally discussed, isn't solely funded by government: customers would pay premiums, just like they do with private insurance, although theoretically those premiums would be lower, and people who couldn't afford it would be subsidized by the government.

So we shouldn't write Lincoln off from a "yes" vote on the public option just yet.