Today’s the Day: Public Option Votes in the Senate Finance Committee

As I laid out moments after the proposed amendments to the Baucus bill were announced, the public option will have its day on the Senate Finance Committee.

That day is today. The 23-member panel will consider amendments sponsored by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) that, if adopted, would add a public option into the panel’s health care reform bill.

Two things to keep in mind if you’re watching the hearing or reading news accounts about the developments: the two proposals are very different, and neither is expected to pass. The Rockefeller amendment is a version of what we’ve come to know as the “robust” public option. It would, for a time, be tied to Medicare, and, thereafter, be able to use the government’s considerable leverage to bargain down payment rates with providers.The Schumer proposal, by contrast, is what we’ve come to know as the “level playing field” public option: much like the public option provided for in the Senate HELP Committee’s proposal, its rates would be negotiated by the government with providers, just as private health insurance companies are forced to do.

Though most reformers by and large would prefer a Rockefeller-style public option, for political purposes, the one to pay close attention to today is Schumer’s. It’s the “compromise” public option, that can’t really be honestly construed as a massive government intrusion into the insurance market. Its impact would be relatively minimal, and though it, too, is not expected to pass, we’ll get to see, for the first time, a number of key senators–Baucus, Conrad, Lincoln–dispense with all the vague public statements and go on the record.

It will also provide reformers a sense of how much support there is within the greater Senate (particularly among Senate Democrats) for a public option–which could still be added at a number of key legislative moments down the line.

As the headline indicates, a big day (though not the last day) for the public option.

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