Is the Public Option Really Back?

Some Senate Democrats think they finally have the votes

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President Obama and Senate Democrats may be bringing back the public option. A health care reform provision long sought by liberals, it would set up a government-run health insurance plan to compete with private plans. Democrats earlier dropped it because it could not attract a filibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senate. But President Obama is preparing legislation to pass it through reconciliation--a process that requires only a normal 50-vote majority. With 18 Senators recently calling for the legislation to include a public option, it might have enough support. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is indicating that the White House would support such a move.

If Democrats follow through and the plan works, it would be the party's first major step forward on health care in some time. Reform, after all, was recently declared dead. More significantly, it would be an astounding shift for the public option, which Senate Democrats dropped from the legislation months ago. The House passed a health care plan that includes a public option, which must still be reconciled with any plan the Senate passes. Can it work?

  • Are The Votes Still There?  The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn is "really nervous" about the strategy. "The theory behind this push is that getting 50 votes for a public option is possible because Reid had 58 votes for his bill before Senator Joe Lieberman demanded removal of the public option. But that was in December, before Scott Brown won Ted Kennedy's old Senate seat and the Democrats went into their political tailspin. Since that time, Democrats--particularly more conservative ones--have gotten very skittish."
  • Why Obama Should Support  Matthew Yglesias explains, "at the end of the day if a health care bill emerges no Republicans will vote for it. And any shine of bipartisanship that Obama may or may not have put on himself is going to go away. So what’s the point in being 'sharply opposed' to the public option concept?"
  • Too Good To Be True  The Washington Post's Ezra Klein writes, "Adding the public option into the legislation would give them something to fight for, and something to be excited about ... this may be the party's last, best hope to give its passionate supporters the win that would reinvigorate them for 2010." But he still doesn't think it will happen.

For one thing, there's sharp resistance to this idea in the White House. The administration has just spent weeks rebranding itself as a bipartisan outpost in a sea of bickering hacks. Resuscitating the most controversial element of the bill and running it through reconciliation looks less like reaching out and more like delivering a hard left cross to the opposition.

  • Are They Planning To Drop It?  Conservative blogger Allahpundit suspects so. "Besides being a cheap and easy way for lefty senators to prove their progressive bona fides to liberals, it’s probably just kabuki aimed at giving Democrats something they can fake-concede at the health-care summit to prove to America what gentle, compromising souls they all are. Imagine how patriotic hearts will swell when Durbin and Schumer and Russ Feingold decide that, in the interest of glorious bipartisanship, they’re going to give up the dream of a government plan that they, er, couldn’t pass anyway."
  • Good Politics for Harry Reid   The Senate Majority Leader faces a difficult reelection campaign in Nevada. But, writes Daily Kos's Joan McCarter, the public option "has the support of one person on his leadership team--Chuck Schumer. It would help bring the House on board to this new WH approved reconciliation effort. The public option is very popular in Nevada. There are all sorts of reasons to include it, including that fact that it's smart policy that will significantly help to lower costs to the system."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.