When it comes to passing health care reform through the Senate, Matthew Yglesias thinks that we are at the mercy of a handful of "moderate" Senate Democrats:
As I've said from the beginning of this process, the most important known unknown in health reform is nothing to do with the Obama administration's tactics and everything to do with the actual subjective premises of the handful of moderate Democrats who control the balance of power in the Senate. If Max Baucus, Kent Conrad, Mary Landrieu, etc. want to see a universal health care plan enacted there's nothing stopping them. But if they don't want to see a universal health care plan enacted, neither the left nor the White House has any particularly impressive leverage to use against them.
--Matthew Ygelsieas, August 24th
I am going to have to disagree with Matt on this one. As a wise man wrote only 19 days ago, there is nothing that can stop Senate Democrats from passing health care reform with fifty votes if they want to:
But the flipside of that is that, as I've said before, if Joe Biden, Harry Reid, and 49 other Senators want to change the filibuster rule or deem a health plan eligible for reconciliation or whatever else they like nobody can stop them. The Senate itself is the only adjudicator of its own procedures.
--Matthew Yglesias, August 5th
The reason I am going to side with August 5th Matthew Yglesias on this one is that he was right. The fact is that Democrats only need 50 votes, plus the Vice-President, to sustain a ruling from the Senate chair that health care reform legislation with a public option can be passed with only 51 votes. This is the case even if the Senate Parliamentarian disagrees.
The only objection to this is political, not substantive. It can be argued that pushing health care reform with a public option through reconciliation is a bad idea politically. However, it cannot be accurately argued that it is impossible to do so. After all, if 50 Senate Democrats plus Vice-President Biden wanted to do so, they could actually eliminate the filibuster altogether, much less get around it only for health care reform legislation.
If they want to, Democrats can pass health care reform with a public option through the Senate with only 50 votes plus Vice-President Biden. If reconciliation is not used, it is because Senate Democrats decided Senate process is more important than a public option, not because Senate Democrats were forced into abandoning the public option by Senate process.
(FWIW, I would like to see the 60-vote rule done away with entirely, but Senators are still able to stop legislation by actually standing up and talking ad infinitum. Just make the filibuster an actual filibuster, with real political consequences.)