Reid Supports a Public Option, But Will He Include One in the Senate Health Care Bill?

September 28, 2009 9:06 am

Two telling indicators suggest that, despite a true 60 vote majority, the public option may nonetheless face an uphill climb in the Senate. On Friday, during a tele-townhall, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told an audience of constituents that he thinks a “triggered” public option is a “pretty doggone good idea”–not as good as a robust public option, but better than the private co-op proposal that for a time was regarded as a likely compromise between Democrats, who support a public option, and Republicans, who do not support health care reform.

Today, citing anonymous Democratic sources, the New York Times reports that Reid will likely not include a public option in a final legislative proposal when he merges the Finance and HELP committee bills.

Officially, Reid says it’s too early to have decided what will and will not be included in the package he introduces on the Senate floor–the public option will get more than one vote in the Finance Committee this week, and only if it fails (as is expected) will Reid have to decide whether to incorporate it from the HELP bill, or to drop it.Everyone will be watching to see what he does.

If he opts for the latter, liberals will be unsparing. Before Paul Kirk was appointed to the Senate on an interim basis by Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, Democrats were reliant on the support of at least one Republican (Sen. Olympia Snowe) to move health care reform forward, and Snowe opposes a public option.

With Kirk’s addition, the politics change pretty significantly. Of course, the public option could still be added to the bill by amendment on the Senate floor, as Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Chuck Schumer suggested last week. But again, such an amendment would need 60 votes to pass, and the onus for its success or failure would fall entirely on the Democratic party.

If the public option doesn’t pass at that point, it could still be resuscitated in negotiations with the House, which is expected to include a public option in its bill. But that’s a dangerous game of chicken reformers won’t likely look kindly upon.

More on that later. Some big moments ahead, both this week and next.

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