The takeaway from today’s debate is that the conservative Democratic senators have not budged on a public option. They’ve been persuaded not to block the bill from going to the floor for debate, but beyond that it doesn’t appear any deal has been struck to get their votes on the next and more important cloture vote.
You might attribute that in part to the Dem holdouts wanting to enjoy their moment of maximum leverage for as long as they can, right up until the next vote later this year. But it’s wishful thinking to conclude that’s the only thing going on here. Blanche Lincoln’s floor speech in particular seemed to foreclose her being able to plausibly turn around later and vote for a public option. You can’t come out as strongly against it as she did and then vote for it anyway without seriously compounding your political problems back home.
The only reasonable reading of today’s developments is that while the Dems will get 60 votes this evening they are still short of the 60 they need to get to a final vote on a bill that includes an opt out public option. Couple that with the fact that there is 100% guaranteed to be a health care reform bill in some shape or form passed by the Senate, and you’re left with somebody needing to strike a deal to get this done.
We reported earlier that, according to one Senate aide, Sen. Chuck Schumer has been trying to map out a compromise that would switch the public option from an opt out version to some form of triggered public option that would satisfy the Democratic holdouts (and maybe Olympia Snowe). This apparently ticked off some of the opt out proponents in the Senate, though Schumer’s office is vigorously denying to us that Schumer has had any role in any such negotiations.
Pissed at Schumer? Really?
No one’s been as committed to the public option as Schumer, and our reporting has suggested that it’s very unlikely that the public option would be in the bill today were it not for Schumer’s efforts. But for all his work to get a public option through, Schumer is still a pragmatist, and surely he’s known for several days what’s becoming obvious to all of us today: they don’t have the votes. So I’m not sure I get why anyone would be pissed at him for trying to come up with a compromise that gets the votes and preserves as much of the public option as possible.
I mean I “get it” — emotions are raw and no one who’s pushed hard for public option is going to be happy to see it watered down more. But at this point you’re just denying reality if you think all that the Dems need to do to get the waverers to come around is stand together in a show of unity. Lieberman is a no. Snowe is a no. Nelson, Landrieu and Lincoln are tepid at best. Whatever peer pressure could be brought to bear is heavily diluted when you’re four votes short. If it were one lone holdout, maybe. But four?
I don’t have any independent knowledge about whether Schumer’s been trying to forge a compromise. But it sure wouldn’t surprise me. I’d be more surprised, given what we now know about the lack of votes (or, more precisely, what we’ve pretty much known but have had confirmed today), if Schumer were not trying to find a compromise. Somebody’s got to. This isn’t one where you get to just pick up the ball and take it home with you. You still have to play, even if the outcome is guaranteed to disappoint.
Late Update: A couple of developments this evening that suggest this compromise Schumer is exploring may be where the action is at.
At his presser following tonight’s vote, Harry Reid said, “I welcome Sen. Schumer, Landrieu and Carper — Landrieu said that they’re working together on a public option that’s acceptable to [all parties].”
Not long after that, Schumer’s spokesperson emailed us with a markedly less defensive statement, in light of Reid’s comment:
Leading up to tonight’s vote, some senators expressed a desire to discuss the public option currently in the Senate bill. Of course, Senator Schumer did not rule that out. But no such talks have yet taken place, and there is not any compromise at hand beyond what Leader Reid has already inserted into the bill. Senator Schumer remains a strong proponent of the opt-out, level playing field public option.
That sounds like the pragmatic Schumer gearing up to go to work.
David Kurtz is Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo where he oversees the news operations of TPM and its sister sites.