In both branches of Congress, Democrats already have the votes and procedural options in place to pass a public option on health care reform. This means it is possible to pass a public option now. It also means that if a public option does not pass as part of health care reform, it will be a because of a political calculation made by the Democratic leadership, not because there was no way to pass one.
Reconciliation Flexible for the Public Option
Despite what Democrats such Kent Conrad, Jim Cooper, and George Stephanopoulos are saying, it is entirely possible to pass a public option through reconciliation in the Senate. As budget expert Stan Collendar wrote two weeks ago, determining what can be passed through reconciliation is a bit of a gray area open to some degree of interpretation:
As I said, this is complicated and will be extremely controversial. There are budget experts on both sides of the aisle and this is more of a judgment call than the application of a hard and fast rule.
One expert arguing that a public option can be passed through reconciliation is Martin Panoe, who served as Secretary for the Senate Democratic caucus from 1995-2008. Last week, Panoe said the following:
"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.
Given that there is a range of interpretation when it comes to the use of reconciliation in the Senate, and that at least one of the leading experts on Senate process believes that a public option can be passed through reconciliation, then it is at least possible to pass a public option through reconciliation. The idea that 60 votes are absolutely required for a public option simply isn't true.
Majorities In Both Branches Of Congress
As far back as April 30th, 235 members of the House of Representatives were in favor of a public option. This number is well over the 218 needed to pass a bill through the House.
According to our latest Senate whip count, 44 Senators are on the record in favor of a public option. Further, Max Baucus has recently claimed that he wants a public option, and Senators Mark Warner and Ron Wyden have said they will vote for one if it reduces costs. Both Jon Tester and Mark Pryor have said there are public options they could support. Tom Carper has said that he doesn't care if there is a public option or not, and Blanche Lincoln has said that people should have the choice of a public option.
Overall, there are at least 51 members of the Senate and 235 members of the House who have said they are open to some sort of non-co-op public option. Further, there are at least 60 members of the Senate who have not ruled out a public option. This means that there are enough supporters of some sort of non-co-op public option to make a majority in both branches of Congress.
Conclusion: Public Option Being Held up By Political Calculations
It is possible to use reconciliation for some sort of non-co-op public option, and to find a majority in both branches of Congress for some sort of non-co-op public option. As such, a public option currently has not been passed because of political calculation, not because Democrats have no other choice.
Here is the choice:
This is a choice. Democrats can pass a public option if they want to. If all goes awry, don't let Democrats tell you after the fact that they had no other options. Tell them that there was a viable path to the public option they could have followed, but they chose not to follow it for political reasons.
- Pass a public option in health care reform, either using reconciliation or convincing some Senators to vote for cloture even if they don't vote for the final bill. The methods required to do so will cause damage to the Democratic congressional leadership and Obama administration's attempts to look bipartisan. Private health insurance industry groups will likely severely hold back donations, and target quite a few "moderate" Democrats in swing or Republican-leaning districts.
- Don't pass a public option in health care reform, either by trying to force the progressive block to fold or by passing nothing at all. This will probably mean fewer uninsured people are provided insurance, and that health care costs neither stabilize nor reduce their share of GDP. Further, progressive grassroots blowback will be immense, at least by the standards of progressive grassroots blowback.