The Senate Finance Committee's negotiations over the public option have been marked by predictable moments of egotism, chaos, and various other forms of legislative melodrama. But if at the end of the (much delayed) process, the panel chooses to include a public option of any kind in its bill, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) will deserve most--if not all--of the thanks.
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Back to Schumer in a moment, but it's worth considering just how important the difference between the two possible outcomes is. As it stands, the other two health care bills working their way through Congress both call for the creation of a public option, but neither is likely to win much, if any, Republican support. If the Finance Committee--more conservative, and more bipartisan--endorses a public option, then it will become a standard feature of the reform landscape, and will live or die with the final reform package. But if it eschews a public option, then the politics change dramatically. Suddenly the public option becomes the province of congressional liberals while the "sensible" centrist position is to delay a public option, or forego it altogether. That's a tough sell.
And that's at least part of the reason Schumer's been so insistent on including a public option--or something very close to it--in the bill the committee eventually unveils. Finance chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) tasked Schumer with being the point man on the public option from the outset of negotiations, but Schumer's gone above and beyond in that role, putting himself on the line very publicly at times when the momentum on the committee wasn't really on his side.