There Are Enough Votes For *A* Triggerless Public Option

by: Chris Bowers

Wed Sep 16, 2009 at 18:26

In our email petitioning Harry Reid earlier today, I claimed "we have the votes to pass a public option in health care reform." This is a statement I stand by, as long as the emphasis is on a triggerless public option, rather than on any of the triggerless public options that currently passed through Congressional committees.

To put it a different way, we have statements showing that there are enough votes in favor of some sort of triggerless public option to pass it through reconciliation. Here is the path to passage:

  • Take the 47 "yes" votes at the Washington Independent Scoreboard.
  • Subtract Bill Nelson and Robert Byrd (45)
  • Add Claire McCaskill and Max Baucus (47)
  • Add Jon Tester and Mark Begich (49)
  • Pass the bill with some combination of a tiebreaker from Vice-President Biden, interim appointment to Kennedy's seat, and Senator Byrd not voting.
There are public statements to fully justify this path to passage.

Full details can be found in the extended entry.

Chris Bowers :: There Are Enough Votes For *A* Triggerless Public Option
Let's start for a moment with a whip count other than the one we have been running. Today, the Washington Independent has published a "Senate Public Option Scoreboard," detailing the public statements of all 99 Senators. The Scoreboard lists 47 supporters, 38 opponents, and 14 fence sitters. It seems pretty accurate, but does need a few tweaks:

  • 48--Claire McCaskill is a yes, not a maybe. Back in May, Claire McCaskill was one of the 28 Demcorats to sign onto the Kennedy-Brown resolution that strongly supported a public option.

  • 49--Max Baucus is a yes, not a maybe. Even though Max Baucus is working to kill the public option before it reaches the floor, it seems impossible for him to vote against a public option that does reach the floor, given that he has declared "I want a public option too!" Hard to get any clearer than that. So, we have Baucus's vote--if a public option reaches the floor.

  • 48--Bill Nelson is a no, not a yes. I have never seen Nelson signal support of a public option. Further, he has said he has helped to prepare the Baucus draft, and sent some pretty consistent hints that he is opposed. Right now, I consider him a no.

  • 47--Robert Byrd is a no, not a yes. We have to use reconciliation to pass a public option, as there are not 60 votes for a public option in the Senate. While it seems likely that Senator Byrd supports a public option in theory, he simply will not get out of his bed and vote "yes" to a public option through reconciliation. He actually switched his vote on the budget from "yes"  to "no" earlier this year when the health care reconciliation was added to the Senate version.

    That said, he probably isn't getting out of his hospital bed to come in and vote "no," either. If Byrd does not vote, that means only 50 votes are required to pass the Senate, not 51.

So, even after the tweaks to the Washington Independent's ccoreboard, we are back at 47. I guess we agree on the number, if not the specific Senators. Here are a bunch of "maybes" from their list that I think are likely "no" votes to a triggerless public option through reconciliation:
  • Evan Bayh is "agnostic," but he voted against the budget that had reconciliation in it. As such, don't expect him to be #51.
  • Tom Carper (trigger only)
  • Kent Conrad (has declared public option "dead")
  • Mary Landrieu (even though she was a "yes" in the spring)
  • Joe Lieberman is simply opposed.
  • George LeMieux. No link, but there is no way that any Republican votes for a public option through reconciliation.
  • Blanche Lincoln can't be expected to be #51 given her recent statements and that she is up for re-election.
  • Ben Nelson (trigger only)
  • Olympia Snowe (trigger-less trigger only)
Some of these Senators are openly undecided, and might have voted for a triggerless public option in some circumstances. However, it is extremely unlikely that any one of them will put their neck on the line as the deciding factor in a 51-50, 51-49, 50-49, or 50-48 reconciliation vote. Since any scenario to pass the public option will almost certainly require reconciliation and end with one of those four vote totals in the Senate (thereby allowing the maximum possible Democrats to show their "independence" from the rest of the party), don't expect any of these Senators to vote in favor.

This puts us at 47 in favor, 49 opposed (or 48, if Byrd doesn't vote), 3 on the fence, and 1 vacant. While this seems dire, all of the remaining people on the fence have stated that there are types of triggerless public options they could support:

  • Jon Tester says there are conditions under which he can support it:

    "I don't need it either way," Tester told The Associated Press between meetings with constituents. "I could either support it or not support it."

  • Mark Begich, through his office, said there are conditions under which he can support it:

    [U]ntil Senator Begich sees how a public option is proposed to be paid for in the final bill that comes before the Senate, he is not committing to supporting a public option.

  • Mark Pryor, through his office, has said there are conditions under which he could support it:

    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."
All of these statements indicate that there is some form of a triggerless public option that these Senators could support. This brings us to 50 supporters of some sort of triggerless public option, 49 or 48 opponents (depending on if Senator Byrd votes), and one vacancy. With no undecideds left, that is enough for passage.

This is the case even if Senator Byrd rises from the hospital to vote no and even if Pryor flips like he did on EFCA. In that scenario, there is still one more option:

BOSTON, Sept 16 (Reuters) - Massachusetts lawmakers could narrowly pass a bill this week to name an interim senator to replace the late Edward Kennedy and keep warm a key Democratic Senate seat as President Barack Obama's healthcare bill looms.(...)

"It's tight (but) the opposition is lessening," Democratic state Senator Thomas P. Kennedy, co-chair of a joint committee on election laws, told Reuters on Wednesday.(...)

While Massachusetts Republicans say they will try and stall the bill if it passes, Democrats say they could still have a replacement for Kennedy within a couple of weeks.

With another Senator in favor of the public option likely to come into the Senate in two or three weeks, and with Vice-President Biden available to cast a tie-breaking vote, a public option could still overcome joint opposition from Senators Byrd and Pryor.

In conclusion, here are the scenarios to pass the bill, all of which assume that Senator Pryor votes "no":

  1. 51-50, with an interim Kennedy appointment voting yes, Senator Byrd voting no, and Vice-President Biden casting the tie-breaker.

  2. 50-49, with an interim Kennedy appointment voting yes, and Senator Byrd not voting at all.

  3. 50-49, with no interim appointment, Senator Byrd not voting, and Vice-President Biden casting a tie-breaker.
The public option that would pass under these scenarios may not yet be written into any bill. Still, we have the statements to prove that it is at least possible to pass some sort of triggerless public option through one of these three paths.

As a final note, remember that while it is possible to pass a public option through reconciliation, the same can not be said for passing the Baucus bill with 60 votes, or passing a bill without a public option through the House at all.

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More good news: (0.00 / 0)
Burris says he won't vote for a bill without a public option:

are you assuming that the PO is the only thing passed (0.00 / 0)
via reconciliation?  If the tax on high-end insurance plans is also included in reconciliation (and there's a good chance it will be in the final bill), then we're going to get baucus, conrad, etc.  50 votes won't be a problem.

Max Baucus will not vote for it! (4.00 / 1)
Watch and see. No matter what he says now, he's utterly and totally owned by the insurance industry and will not vote for a bill that would gut their profits.

His entire efforts have been to destroy any bill to block any successful effort to pass anything. The only reason he's passed out ANY bill is that the pressure was getting too great.

That means by your own numbers the only way to pass meaningful health care reform is for MA to appoint a new senator and for Byrd not to vote (a good bet) and for Biden to cast the tie-breaking vote on reconciliation.

The best chance was blown when Harry Reid screwed up by refusing to take this away from Baucus and demand an up or down vote back before the August recess.

Everything since then has been a downward slide.

The only ray of hope I see is that the Republicans are so totally fired up against it that they undermine their own negotiating position.

If 10 Republican senators had been willing to vote for any health-care bill they could have watered it down to zero.

But, smelling blood in the water, they are all attacking the Baucus bill. Thus, it gets NO support. Not even Snowe will vote for this piece of crap. Two or three Rep. Senators coming out in support if it could ram it through as "bi-partisan." But, it won't happen.

Unfortunately, all Obama has to do is lean on the House progressives and they will fold like a cheap suit. And that will be the end. We'll get a bill that EVERYONE hates!

And all the idiots who voted against a P.O. will screw themselves since they'll please nobody and be voted out of office!

[ Parent ]
so just to check (0.00 / 0)
In some case majorities are based on all senators, not just those voting.  (An example is the cloture rule.)  Are we sure we need a majority of those who vote or a majority of all 99 senators (50)?  

New Jersey politics at Blue Jersey.

You need a majority of Senators voting (4.00 / 1)
It isn't like cloture.

[ Parent ]
So can Biden break a 49-49 tie? (0.00 / 0)
Or can he only vote on a 50-50 tie?

I asked this over at Congress Matters, and they didn't know.

John McCain won't insure children

[ Parent ]
he can break any tie (4.00 / 2)
50-50, 49-49, 45-45, as long as it's the sum of Senators PRESENT to vote, not seated

[ Parent ]
Hey Chris, (0.00 / 0)
Gov. Dean linked to you in his rec. list diary on dailykos.    

[ Parent ]
the problem with this is (0.00 / 0)
...with reconciliation, there will be two parts of the bill: a part that is part of reconciliation that only requires a majority, and a non-reconcilitation bill that will require 60 votes. If the Senators are opposed to the bill, and they know that it will come in two parts, what would stop them from voting against the non-reconciliation part of the bill too? How can we count on senators like Lieberman and Conrad to vote the way we need them to?

Good question (4.00 / 1)
Here is my answer:

1. Their basic political calculation is that they need a health care reform bill to pass, and to stand out of the rest of the Democratic Party at the same time.

2. If they vote for the less controversial non-reconciliation part, they can say they helped health care to pass.

3. If they also vote against the reconciliation part,, they can say they aren't like the dirty hippies who make up the rest of the party.

Do you think that makes any sense?

[ Parent ]
no, but... (0.00 / 0)
Lieberman and Conrad do not make sense.
In other words, everything nonsensical makes sense to them.

[ Parent ]
oh, just ignore this comment (0.00 / 0)
I misread yours. apologies.

[ Parent ]
it makes sense to me (0.00 / 0)
But I don't think they will see it the same way you do. If they followed your logic, they would have just been willing to go the normal, 60-vote route with the entire bill and just vote against cloture, right?

I do hope you're right, but I suspect that, even if there are senators who are this Machiavellan, the odds that all ten will act this way are slim.

[ Parent ]
Well (0.00 / 0)
This is sort of the big question: do they want to stand apart only on style, or also substance?

In other words, is it all just political posturing, in which case your scenario makes sense, or are they really and truly protecting the interests of the health industry, in which case no amount of sugar-coating and decoys will ever get them to cast a vote which conflicts with that?

Voters might be fooled by voted-for-it-before-i-voted-against-it antics. I suspect the lobbyists are smarter.

[ Parent ]
That's a good question (0.00 / 0)
And certainly a very real potential danger.

[ Parent ]
It depends on order and construction (0.00 / 0)
If constructed properly with the public option authorization and framework in one portion and limiting language in the other it almost forces more than 60 votes. If the reconciliation portion passes first.

[ Parent ]
Clarification on last paragraph (4.00 / 1)
Did you mean can't in the last paragraph?

"the same can't be said for passing the Baucus bill with 60 votes,..."

John McCain says overturn the law that legalized abortion

Yes I did (0.00 / 0)
Thanks for catching that. Will fix.

[ Parent ]
I don't trust Baucus for a second (4.00 / 1)
He will find some other reason to back out of voting for a bill with a public option.

Join the Iowa progressive community at Bleeding Heartland.

Yeah (0.00 / 0)
Can Baucus really be considered a yes at this point?  He might've said that he supported a public option, but if he were asked to vote for a likely robust public option through reconciliation, would he really do it?

[ Parent ]
Baucus will only vote yes (4.00 / 1)
if some parts of his bill end up in the final bill...this is a classic "I'm the chairman of the Finance Committee, you need to pay attention to me" move.

I think if you put parts of his bill in the final bill, even with a public option, he'll support it...and you let him take the credit for it's financial sucesss.  

[ Parent ]
We should keep his financial component, anyway (0.00 / 0)
One of the good things about the Baucus bill is his method of paying for it, where he taxes the high-end health care plans.  We aught to leave that in, anyway.  Since that is the portion his committee was suppose to work out in the first place, it certainly seems fair.

[ Parent ]
On the other hand... (0.00 / 0)
In quick hits, Bruce claims:

Reason the Bill scores well?
Because under CBO scoring 25 million American residents, the large majority of them citizens or legal residents STILL would be uninsured after 2015 and paying $3 billion a year in penalties for the privilege. Which is only about an eighth of what they actually owe meaning that billions more in potential tax liens on working class people would be floating around and compounding every year.

Which somehow has people like Ezra giving props to Max.

Heckuva job Maxie!
by: Bruce Webb @ Wed Sep 16, 2009 at 22:56

If that is the real reason the Baucus plan scores well, instead of the tax mechanism, then this isn't so great, I guess.

Still, I agree that Baucus will need some kind of face saving gesture.

[ Parent ]
Yeah (0.00 / 0)
well this is the problem, we can't get a good healthcare plan and get it scored well by the CBO because a good healthcare plan will no doubt add to the deficit...or at least be forecasted to...deficit forecasts can change.

and then we have to face the reality that the deficit is the one issue the country is conservative on and the one issue where progressives can lose...not to mention a bill that isn't deficit neutral can be subject to a point of order in the Senate, eliminating reconciliation as an option.

so what do we do? We have the get the best bill passed that is deficit neutral, but that may mean weakening the public option, lowering subsidies and/or leaving some people uninsured.

The deficit is a real problem we're all ignoring.

[ Parent ]
No one seemed to give a shit about deficit spending (0.00 / 0)
back when it was used for tax cuts for the rich, war in Iraq, financial industry bailouts, hell even the Medicare prescription drug benefit that was basically money for drug companies.

Oh but now that we're talking about getting everyday Americans health insurance we can't afford it.

If I were Obama, whenever some conservative idiot brings up deficits I would quote my second cousin Dick Cheney: Deficits don't matter.

[ Parent ]
this point (4.00 / 2)
about the votes being there in the Senate and the House cannot be repeated enough. And even if pre-vote whip counts are not definitive the bill should be voted on. Instead of being defensive (as always) we should be daring ConservaDems and even blue state/district Republicans to vote no on a reform package that would substantially reduce premiums (through competition with a strong public plan) and prevent people from being denied claims when they get (isn't the point of insurance to be covered when you get sick?).

Bill Nelson is against a Public (4.00 / 2)
Option.  The St Pete Times this morning:

Nelson said most of the public option advocates "don't have a clue," about what it would take to create such a plan. "The whole thing is so complicated you can't expect them to understand."

"If a co-op serves the same purpose, what's the big deal?" Nelson added.

I am sure many Floridian activists will remember being told we don't have a clue come election time.

Surely this Nelson is primaryable (4.00 / 2)
Senator Robert Wexler?

[ Parent ]
primaryable maybe (4.00 / 1)
on this issue, I don't know...for the most part the base of Florida Democrats are conservatives up north and the eldery on the Gold Coast, neither really care much for the public option.

I think alot of Nelson's opposition is coming from his base of eldery Democrats along the coast. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see Ron Klein jump ship on this either.  

[ Parent ]
Illinois' 10th CD (Mark KIrk) seems similar (0.00 / 0)
I was at the Arlington Heights Town Hall that Kirk held in order to demostrate for Medicare for All. A friend asked me why the voters that town (and in rhe ritzy communities on Lake Michigan) support Kirk. I believe it's coming from the same type of retiree. (I would post a link to, but they are down just now.) When you check out Kirk's donations, the category "Retired" is the highest among individuals, having given $500K in 2008, a goodly percentage of his $5 million total. Kirk continues to mollify his supporters by doing pressers and posting on his website only the most uncontroversial projects that he can, and avoids those that might upset voters set in their ways.

I'd support a bid by Wexler, that's for sure!

[ Parent ]

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