Is Harry Reid Working The Inside Game For A Public Option?

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid isn’t exactly accustomed to kind words from progressives these days. With a health care reform fight that feels endless, and an intractable bloc of conservative Democrats refusing to play nice on the public option, Reid has become a common whipping boy for activists who think he hasn’t done enough to strong arm his 60 voting members into giving health care reform an up or down vote.

So it comes as some surprise that two prominent progressive figures, approached by TPMDC, said that much has changed since the summer–and particularly in the last couple weeks–and that Reid is working the inside game for the public option.“Reid and/or his staff has been in practically hourly conversations with a whole set of progressive players re how best to make sure we position ourselves to get a strong public option coming out of conference committee,” said one progressive strategist, who asked not to be named. “He hasn’t made any final procedural decisions yet RE how to get that done, but he’s having really honest conversations [about] all his major options, pros and cons of each, etc. I’m actually pretty impressed, at least right now.”

The source adds, “He and his staff are much more engaged with both pro-public option activists and Senators over the last couple of weeks…. But he does seem to have a new sense of religion [with respect to] figuring out how to maximize our chances for the best possible public option coming out of conference.”

Approached by TPMDC, a prominent progressive health care leader echoed this conclusion. “Harry Reid sincerely wants to get a public option and he’s doing everything he can to figure out how,” the second source added.

An optimistic Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) told TPMDC, “We talk to him, he doesn’t have to reach very far. He’s listening, clearly Reid’s listening on all this on the public option.”

Now, that’s not to suggest that Reid has won over all progressives regarding his leadership. Far from it. In a way, the comments are more of a reflection of the schism within the progressive community over how best to push Democrats to make good on their campaign promises than it is an indication of a broad change of heart. Reid has recently been involved in a row with some hardline progressive groups over his inability to keep his caucus in check–or at least his inability to prevent conservative Democrats from publicly announcing their willingness to back an expected Republican health care filibuster.

They, and other grassroots figures have been far from shy about their impatience–even disgust–with the embattled Nevada Democrat, who faces a daunting re-election challenge in 2010. Just yesterday, Markos Moulitsas–founder of DailyKos.com–wrote, “I’ll take a Chuck Schumer-run Senate with 57 Democrats (bye bye Reid, Lieberman, and Lincoln) than a Harry Reid-run one with 75 Democrats.”

Reid’s office was not available for comment before press time.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at brian@talkingpointsmemo.com
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