Wednesday 30 September 2009
I would not be honest if I said the "public option" is alive and well. It is clearly in critical condition, but all hope is not lost. There is still significant support in the House for a strong "public option." In the Senate there appears to be 51 votes for a weaker "public option" like the one presented on Tuesday by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York). The problem is 60 votes are needed in the Senate without utilizing what is known as the reconciliation option.
It is now more than likely that the bill that will go to the floor of the Senate will not have a "public plan" in it. When the bill gets to the Senate, there will be another chance to amend it. Adding an amendment that will not prevent the bill from getting the 60 votes needed will not be easy, but it's not impossible.
The Sixty Votes
I agree with the critics that say there will not be 60 votes for a public option. What if the 60 members of the Democratic caucus committed to at least voting to end debate and then voted the way they wanted on final passage? I think the "public option" would have 51 votes, possibly more. Even 50 would be enough with Vice President Biden casting the tiebreaker.
I believe all Democrats should vote for a public option, but I know that the Blue Dogs like Blanche Lincoln and Mary Landrieu will not. Let them do something for party unity and vote to end cloture before selling out to corporate interests. It probably won't happen, but it is worth fighting for.
You might be wondering why I didn't mention Max Baucus or Kent Conrad. Well, I think they would vote for cloture and would vote for the public option if they thought it would make it through the Senate.
"What If That Fails?"
The next option is reconciliation. This one is tricky and the Republicans are already preparing parliamentary maneuvers to block it. Every year the House and Senate pass separate budgets that then have to be reconciled. After a conference between negotiators from both the House and the Senate, a single bill is sent back to both chambers for final approval. In the Senate, only 51 votes are needed for passage. The bill cannot be held up by a cloture motion requiring 60 votes.
It is not. Under Senate rules, reconciliation can only be used on bills that have a significant budgetary impact. George Bush's controversial tax cuts used this method to get through the Senate. It's only fitting that the cornerstone of Barack Obama's economic policy be passed the same way.
The Democratic Party will need catastrophic care if neither of these scenarios pan out. If the Democrats pass a health care reform bill that mandates that everyone must buy in and it doesn't include a "public plan" that will provide an affordable option, the backlash could be devastating. On the other hand, if they do succeed at providing an affordable option that will reduce health care costs, the Republican party will be the one on life support.
As bleak as the situation seems, surrender is not an option. There is still hope; there are still two rounds left; it's time to reach back and fight with everything we have left. Lives depend on it.