Getting Close In the Senate

by: Chris Bowers

Mon Aug 24, 2009 at 12:12

The main strategy for passing health care reform with a robust public option is divided into two parts
  1. Make it impossible to pass health care reform without a public option in the House, via the Progressive Block;
  2. Make it possible to pass health care reform with a public option in the Senate, via reconciliation.
Pulling this off would make passing health care reform with a public option the most viable path for both the White House and the congressional leadership.

Here at Open Left, our focus has been on the Senate half of this strategy. While we have yet to reach the 50 Senators in support of a public option that would serve as a tipping point, we are on the brink.  In a sign of their increasing willingness to use reconciliation for the public option, Senate Democrats are now pushing procedural experts who believe a public option could be passed through reconciliation into the media spotlight:

In the last week, Democrats have begun to talk openly of using a procedure known as budget reconciliation to pass a health bill in the Senate with a simple majority, assuming no Republican support. To do that, under Senate rules, they would probably need to show that the public plan changed federal spending or revenues and that the effects were not "merely incidental" to the changes in health policy.

Democrats believe they could clear this hurdle by demonstrating that the public plan would save money or cost money.

"If a public plan is shown to have a cost to the government that affects outlays or revenues, it could be included in a health care bill using reconciliation procedures," said Martin P. Paone, a former Senate aide who has been consulted by Senate Democrats.

According to our whip count, 45 Senate Democrats have make statements declaring their support for a non-trigger public option. We need five more to demonstrate that passing a public option through reconciliation is a viable option. Here are four Senators who are currently in the "maybe" column, but are teetering on the edge (more in the extended entry):

Chris Bowers :: Getting Close In the Senate
  • 46. Max Baucus:

    U.S. Senator Max Baucus has finally broken his silence regarding his personal position on including a public option in health care reform legislation. Last Monday night (8/17), in an unprecedented conference call to Montana Democratic central committee chairs, the powerful leader of the Senate Finance Committee told his strongest supporters that he supported a public option.

    While discussing the obstacles to getting a public option through the Senate, he assured his forty listeners, "I want a public option too!"

  • 47. Mark Pryor:

    Pryor's office meanwhile put out the following statement to the Arkansas Times in regard to a public or government-backed plan: "Senator Pryor supports every American being able to keep the coverage they have now or being able to choose a plan that best meets their needs.  A public option plan is something that is still on the table and something he could support, but it should be designed in a way that increases and does not eliminate competition."

  • 48. Jon Tester:

    U.S. Sen. Jon Tester said Friday in Bozeman he could support a controversial public option insurance plan as part of health care reform.

    "If it's designed right," the Montana Democrat said. "The devil's in the details."

    Any reform bill, Tester said, would have to control costs, improve access and affordability, improve people's health, focus on wellness and prevention, and preserve choice.

  • 49. Ron Wyden:

    A national public option is one potential tool for controlling these costs, and as long as it helps us reach that objective in can be an important and useful element of real reform.
While these do not count as statements of support, they demonstrate a real possibility of support.  If we can push them over the edge, they would bring us to 49 Senators, only one vote short of passage under reconciliation.  Further, Senators like Mark Begich and Blanche Lincoln are also rocking on the fence.

The bottom line is that we are very close to 50 public option supporters in the Senate, and also closing in on using the 50-vote threshold to pass a public option in the Senate. Help push us over the edge by sending faxes to twelve of the remaining undecided Senators:

This is a winnable fight. Keep sending in faxes, and keep sending us Senators statements and responses.  Post comments here, send an email to or go to Anything that you can find helps us move closer to our goal.

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Excellent strategy, Chris. (4.00 / 8)
We are close.

So close (4.00 / 7)
the moment we get to 51, the entire context of this discussion will change.  At that point the incentives of the different players completely change.

with Biden as the tiebreaking vote (0.00 / 0)
We only need 50, right?

Join the Iowa progressive community at Bleeding Heartland.

[ Parent ]
May want to whip Klobuchar again (4.00 / 4)
If as reported she supports co-opts.

7:36pm: Interesting question about removing the third payer between the providers and patients. Amy says she supports a co-op in response. Ugh. Co-op's a dumb idea Amy.

7:39pm: Amy get's a question about a public option. She kind of dodges, says she competitive option but only says she's for a co-op and exchange. Cortese doesn't like a public option, calls it "government run" as if that's bad.

LOVE yer spelling for co-opts!! LOL (4.00 / 1)


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
True (0.00 / 0)
On the whole, her tele-Town Hall was disappointing. Everything she said would be copacetic with a bill lacking a public option worthy of the name.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
what public option? (4.00 / 2)
the house bill with its designed to fail option that won't even kick in until 2013? Or the even worse Senate HELP bill? Or is there an amendment that contains a public option that would be meaningful?

The public option that will be incremental just as it was first introduced in Canada. (4.00 / 5)
Just like Britain and much of the rest of the OECD, that started smaller and was improved with time. It took twenty years for full implementation in Canada, this one will cover millions, in Canada, the first one barely covered a million, and it didn't cover everything, the public option that follows along with guarantees of no cutting off people who have pre-existing conditions, the one that limits your yearly co-pays so people wont be bankrupted every effing day by health problems, the public option that accompanies the reform to set rates near income levels./

The public option that's on the table because we got it there.  


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
Yes, it may be incremental... (0.00 / 0)
But it must still be meaningful. I think that's what AliceDem meant. The public option must be basically an opt-in into Medicare for it to truly work in covering people, lowering costs, and providing real competition. A weakened public option with artificially inflated costs and minimal coverage could very well be destined to fail.

Yes, Virginia, there are progressives in Nevada.

[ Parent ]
The pledge bloc has said "robust". I have looked just now for a link (0.00 / 0)
to the set of that makes it robust, and can't find it. I liked it then. ANy one have the pledge? Lets post it at the top of page here at openleft, like Bowers has just placed the Senate whip count.

Yes thank you Andrew. Which one is important. But we have to remember. The final bill in each committeee goes to the floor of each house, they put them together, they pass one each in each house. Thenm it goes to conference, then one bill gets passed by both houses again. That's the final bill.

Thats the one that has to pass the pledge. It fact it has to improve on the pledge. The pledge is just the least they will accept. At 51% we can do better than the pledge.


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
HB 3200 (0.00 / 0)
is a bail out for insurance companies. No one has proposed a meaningful public option, not in legislation that has come out of committee, nor any amendment that I know of. Members won't be voting on a "pledge," they will be voting on actual legislation. So unless we have an amendment with an actual robust public option, then the public option is merely an advertising slogan.

[ Parent ]
What dont you understand? (4.00 / 2)
There is no Bill. OK?

There is no Bill.

No Bill has been written.

Several ctte's have passed suggested wordings, but, none, not even Bacaus' will BE the final bill. The house is not required to pass a ctte's bill. And they will not. They will pass something like it. And it will be written in the ctte of the whole essentially. The pledge bloc has said, if the final bill in the house doesnt meet their standard, they will vote it down. There will be no bill.

The vast majority of both houses want a bill. They will not let the pledge bloc stop health reform. They will include in the bill language the pledge bloc has demanded, or better.

Its not a slogan, its a detailed list of demands, with a signed promise to vote no, if it isnt met.



The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
Canada (4.00 / 1)
In Canada it was started in Saskatchewan provinces as a provincial system, and then other provinces started their own when their businesses began to move to Saskatchewan. That would be like if we passed the Kuncinich amendment that allowed states to start their own systems, like Pennsylvania might start their own.

What the House bill or the Senate HELP bill are nothing like the history of the Canadian system. Both, in different ways, are designed to fail. If there is an amendment that proposes a truly "robust" public option, I have yet to see a link.  

[ Parent ]
Not true, and not designed to fail. (4.00 / 1)
Canada's final national bill was passed, twenty years later, after Saskatchewan, in almost exactly the same circumstances. The Liberals (Canada's national Liberal Party) were in Minority. They needed the progressive block, the NDP, lead by Tommy Douglas to govern at all, and just like now, the progressive bloc (NDP) made demands, made hay, made press and threatened to win total control of government, only to be sidelined by PM Pearson adopting most of the NDP platform, including health reform and social security.

It isnt designed to fail, partly because we havent seen it yet. We just have the pledge minimum requirements.

Somebody get me a link to the pledge! (and lets put it at top of page.)


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
members don't vote on a pledge (0.00 / 0)
they vote on legislation. Unless someone has an amendment with a robust public option, there is nothing to vote for. The public option is an advertising slogan.

[ Parent ]
You are wrong. That is not true, you are making a mistake. (4.00 / 1)


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
Very winnable, (4.00 / 4)
despite all the admin missteps so far, despite all the corporatist Demos standing firm, for the moment, for the insurance cos.

A little more coordinated and sustained political pressure, from outside and from within DC, might do the trick.   Make it a People vs Insurance Companies choice for them.

In 1964 on Civil Rights, the early head count by floor leader Sen Humphrey showed only 51 votes to invoke cloture, when 2/3 was the rule.  Liberals were 16 down, yet they didn't give up and constantly kept working on foot-dragging senators.

If the good guys back then could come from 16 down to win, we can make it happen being only 5 in the red.  Besides, solid health care reform is probably  more of a popular concept with the public today than CR was 45 yrs ago.


and less controversial (4.00 / 1)
civil rights = a revolution in American social relations.

health care reform = a better deal on your insurance.

No wonder the right wingers and industry shills want to make health care reform look like the second coming of Mao Zedong.

[ Parent ]
And we did it. We did it. (4.00 / 3)
And we learned how to organize this stuff. The bill we get will represent a new high for on the ground, off the cuff, engaged organizing from Americans citizens. We did it.

Lots of people have helped, and there is a hell of lot more to do, and there are traps being set for us by asshats that we have to be very careful about. We have to be ready to strike back with a demand that the bill be killed no matter how far along it is, unless it meets the Pledged guarantees, and a Robust public option.

A Robust Public Option or Kill the Bill.

Be proud, careful, strong and wary. The Health Reform Bill is ours.


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
Apologies to Open Left. I had posted a Quick Hit on this (4.00 / 1)
last night and posted the Montana Coalition Unified Statement press release on Firedoglake, but I must not have pressed save or publish.  Just wanted you to know that you are the two sites that I told the Montana coalition I would go to first.

We should take a look at Brian Schweitzer who came out in strong favor of Canada's system.

If Baucus breaks... (4.00 / 3)
Then we can get a good deal in the Senate. We all know his damned Finance Committee "Gang of 6" is holding things up and threatening to destroy any public option. If he can sideline Conrad & the GOPers, we can get moving with a better bill. Still, the key to final passage is to either figure out a way to make reconciliation happen or get all 60 Democrats to at least commit to allowing for cloture (even if Conrad & Lieberman won't vote for the bill itself).

Yes, Virginia, there are progressives in Nevada.

reread Tester's "commitment" (4.00 / 1)
it says he could vote for an public option under the right conditions, in other words, nothing that stops the bail out of the health insurance companies. The health deform packages that emerged from the House and the Senate HELP are both bail outs for the health insurance companies.

this is a wild goose chase and I hope it goes down in flames.

Thankl you for the revealing expose. (4.00 / 1)
I hope it goes down in flames.

This says all we need to know.

To answer what were, or seemed like, actual questions, yes tester is soft, thats why he is listed as soemone to pressure, thats why we have his number up, thats why we are running a whip on them.

And you could help. But you dont want to, because you have other goals?


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
I hope it goes down in flames (0.00 / 0)
because it looks like it is going to be very bad legislation which will destroy the employer based insurance system without putting anything in its place.  

[ Parent ]
Tester has constantly disappointed me with his bad votes (4.00 / 2)
So I'm with you in not trusting his vote.  But we will be seeing him this weekend for our officer's convention, so we will keep the pressure on and make sure he knows we are on to the bad bad bills being proposed.

[ Parent ]
Dont trust verify, call and demand a pledge. (0.00 / 0)


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
Chris (0.00 / 0)
A suggestion.

I would change you whip count the following
Definately Supporting
Party of no

At this point the key fact is that there are 49 definate or leaning supporters of the public option.  

Just a suggestion, but it is usefull I think to be optimistic.  

Because its a whip, we need the pledge version, not the leaning version. (0.00 / 0)
And CB's layout shows the 61 possible votes.


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
Without "single payer"... (0.00 / 0)
Without "single payer" its all a scam. I don't think anyone is surprised. From Chris Hedges today:

"Obama and the congressional leadership have shut out advocates of single-payer. The press, including papers such as The New York Times, treats single-payer as a fringe movement. The television networks rarely mention it. And yet between 45 and 60 percent of doctors favor single-payer. Between 40 and 62 percent of the American people, including 80 percent of registered Democrats, want universal, single-payer not-for-profit health care for all Americans. The ability of the corporations to discredit and silence voices that represent at least half of the population is another sad testament to the power of our corporate state."

No its not a scam, but thanks. (4.00 / 1)


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
Says who? (0.00 / 0)
You?  WTF do you know...?  Absolutely nothing worth talking about!  I thought so...

[ Parent ]
Thank you for your contribution. (4.00 / 2)


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
AliceDem some months ago: (4.00 / 2)
"Obama is from the University of Chicago, ground zero for disaster capitalism."  Just one of dozens of posts assuring us that no good can come from this administration, given its basic right-wing DNA.  In other words, defeatist, hopeless, all-or-nothing-and-right-now nonsense.

Alice, Obama could cure cancer and you would say "Oh yeah?  What about heart disease?"  

thank you (0.00 / 0)
thank you for helping to organize this... sent all my emails, posted on Facebook. I hope it grows and grows

Why are we not bothering with Evan Bayh? (4.00 / 1)
I grant that he's not likely to flip, but heck, Ben Nelson is on that list.  Why not Bayh?  The only other Dems you've left off are Byrd, who's too sick to respond, and Lieberman, who's given a firm no.

The Crolian Progressive: as great an adventure as ever I heard of...


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