HCAN: Snowe Still Important, But in the End the Public Option’s Up to Democrats

September 28, 2009 1:26 p.m.

A lot of the most pressing political questions about health care reform will soon be answered, and reformers and pols alike are grappling with the fact that Democrats now have enough votes to pass a public option without any Republican votes.

“Hopefully when push comes to shove, Democrats will support a strong public option, and do the right thing,” said Jacki Schechner of the reform campaign Health Care for America Now.

“We’re in a good spot right now,” added Schechner. “We’ll see where we are after tomorrow.Tomorrow, the Senate Finance Committee will consider a number of amendments that, if adopted, would add a public health insurance option to the panel’s bill. And though none is expected to pass, the votes will help clarify, for both reformers and Democratic party leaders alike, just how likely it is that a public option will survive in the upper chamber.

If Finance ultimately does not include a public option as part of its bill, Democrats will be able to write one in at three different choke points down the road. First, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid could import the public option from the Senate HELP committee’s bill when he merges the two plans. Failing that, Democrats could vote one in by amendment on the Senate floor. And, as a last resort, the House’s public option could be added by consensus to the very final bill during negotiations between chambers.

At each point, it’s survival would likely be dependent upon the willingness of all Democrats–even public option skeptics–to stand united against Republican filibusters. But according to Schechner, that doesn’t mean Democrats will stop courting Republican Olympia Snowe to give their bill bipartisan imprimatur. In fact, according to Schechner, many Democrats continue to think all roads to reform still run through the Senator from Maine.

“I think they’ll still continue to try to talk to Senator Snowe,” Schechner says. “I think that she’s still important. They know where she is and they know that she’s going to be independent and reasonable and they’re going to encourage her to work on our side. I don’t think they give up on that at all.”

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