Next Step for Senate Liberals: Get the Ball Out of Baucus’ Court

Liberals aren’t particularly impressed with the draft health care legislation Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) circulated over the weekend…to say the least. But for reform-oriented members of the Senate the key at this point is simple: get the ball out of Baucus’ court.

Though they were largely closed out of negotiations over health care legislation for the last several weeks, some members of the Senate Finance Committee–including Sens. Schumer, Rockefeller, and Kerry–do support a public option. But though Baucus’ draft falls far short on that score, they’ll almost certainly vote to move it forward anyhow.

“If they vote against it, it won’t be in the Finance committee,” says a Senate Democratic aide.

Once it’s out of committee, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will take the lead in merging it with legislation voted out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee–and at that point, the fate of the public option in the Senate will be largely in his hands.Many observers expect that he’ll affix a public option to a trigger, which will be pulled years down the line if insurance companies don’t lower prices and expand access on their own.

Today, Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will meet with President Barack Obama to game legislative strategy ahead of Obama’s speech before a joint session of Congress tomorrow. (Obama will also meet with progressive House leaders to hear their concerns and apprise them of the status of negotiations over the public option.)

For weeks now, it’s been clear that a bill without a public option will be a hard sell in the House, but a bill with a public option will be a hard sell in the Senate. By the end of the day, we should have a clearer idea who’s going to win that tug of war.

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