Thursday, January 21, 2010

Public Option Resurrected From Near Death, Thanks To Special Election, Reconciliation

By FireDogLake's Jon Walker FDL

With the loss of their 60th vote in the Senate, Democrats are going to need to find a new way to pass health care reform. The most popular idea is for the House to pass the Senate bill as is with many important “fixes” passed just before or at effectively the exact same moment using reconciliation. (Passing a whole new bill using only reconciliation is another option, but seems to have less support at this moment.) SEIU President Andy Stern, Sen. Kent Conrad, and Sen. Max Baucus have all expressed support for this strategy. If they are going to use reconciliation, they have no excuse to not include the public option and/or Medicare buy-in.

The only official “reason” the public option was dropped from the Senate bill was because four Senate Democrats (Lincoln, Landrieu, Nelson, and Lieberman) refused to vote for cloture on a bill with a public option. Reconciliation measures can’t be filibustered, so they only need a simple majority to pass the Senate. There is no need to listen to the ridiculous demands of a handful of conservative Democrats.

Back in September, Sen. Tom Harkin said the the public option had majority support in the Senate. The early Medicare buy-in provision that was meant to have been a “compromise” that would have 60 votes until Lieberman flip-flopped, but should easily be able to gain a simple majority using reconciliation. Since there was a public option in the original House bill, we know it should have the necessary support in the House.

The public option is extremely popular with the general public. It is much more popular than the Senate bill, and even makes the unpopular individual mandate palatable with the American people. Finally, even a weak public option would save at least $25 billion. That money could be used to increase affordability tax credits.

Now that Democrats are talking about using reconciliation, there is no excuse for not including a public option. It should have the votes needed in both chambers, and will make health care reform cheaper for the government and more popular with the American people. If the Progressive Caucus were serious when they demanded that health care must contain a public health insurance option, they now have the tool of reconciliation to make sure that happens.