Hoping to assuage progressive Democrats who remain disappointed with the content of the health care reform bill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) committed on Friday to holding a separate vote on a public option in the coming months.
In a letter to two of his more progressive colleagues in the Senate -- Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Bernie Sanders of Vermont -- the Nevada Democrat implicitly apologized for his inability to get a government-run insurance plan into the final piece of health care legislation and promised to keep working to get the policy into law.
As you know, I am a strong supporter of a public option, and I included the HELP Committee's public option in the bill I brought to the senate floor last year. I was disappointed when it became clear that we did not have the votes to keep it.
Nevertheless, like you, I remain committed to pursuing the public option. While I believe that the legislation we are considering does much to provide affordable coverage to millions of Americans and curb insurance company abuses, I also believe that the public option would provide additional competition to make insurance even more affordable. As we have discussed, I will work to ensure that we are able to vote on the public option in the coming months.
The letter is a clear sign that Reid's commitment to the public option throughout the health care debate has been as much personal as political. The Nevada Democrat, on several occasions, tried to corral the 60 votes needed to pass variations of the public plan -- but to no avail. His willingness to give the policy a separate hearing appears to be a thank you of sorts to the caucus's more progressive members for not jumping ship.
UPDATE: It also achieved a practical objective for the Majority Leader. Later on Friday, Sen. Bernie Sander's announced that he would drop his efforts to include a public option as a amendment to the health care reconciliation package -- forgoing a potentially tricky vote for the party.
"Given the very delicate situation at this time and the challenge facing Speaker Pelosi as she rounds up votes, Bernie and other senators have concluded that offering a public option amendment now could undermine the entire process," said Sanders spokesman Will Wiquist.
The search now is for a vehicle outside health care reform to get a public plan into law. The same institutional hurdles that killed the provision in the previous go-rounds -- mainly that there aren't 60 supportive senators to break a filibuster -- remain. But aides on the Hill are already looking to future reconciliation vehicles to which they can attach the public plan, which would, in turn, allow for it to pass via an up-or-down vote.
"I very much appreciate Majority Leader Reid's continuing support for a public option and I am grateful for his commitment to bring legislation before the full Senate within the next several months," Sen. Sanders said in response to Reid's letter. "It's imperative that we have a vote on this issue and I'm glad that is going to happen... It is my judgment that a majority of members in the House and Senate would support a public option when it comes up for a vote."
HERE IS THE FULL LETTER: