Why Pelosi Killed the Public Option

There are a few reasons why Speaker Nancy Pelosi put the kibosh on adding a public option to the reconciliation sidecar bill, even though the House passed its health care bill with a robust version of the insurance plan last year.

The main one: the votes aren't there. In the House. Huh?

It's true that there doesn't seem to be enough votes in the Senate just yet, but Pelosi's problem extends deeper than any distrust she has about whether Dick Durbin will actually whip it. In November, the public option passed the House with the Stupak abortion language attached. If, say, 8 to 10 of the 12 members of the anti-abortion Stupak bloc defect, Pelosi needs to pick up about the same number of votes.

And not from liberals -- to get to 216, the House reconciliation "sidecar" will have to move less in the direction that liberals want, which means that there won't be a public option. That Pelosi was so forceful about this on Friday was intentional: it was a signal to wavering moderates.

Point two: the last thing the White House and Democratic leaders want to have is another prolonged debate on the public option or, for that matter, on any issue which slows down passage of the main bill and then the reconciliation fix.

One lesson liberals did not learn from 2009 was that the longer this takes, and the more infighting aired in the press, the murkier their message will get and the harder it will be to find the votes for monumental reform.

But the White House learned this lesson. So did public option proponent Jay Rockefeller in the Senate. And so did Nancy Pelosi.

Thumbnail photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images