Is It Better for the Public Option for Reid to Leave It Out?

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Bill Scher Senior Writer, Campaign for America's Future

Over at The Wonk Room, Igor Volsky, after recalling how conservatives successfully killed health care reform on the Senate floor in 1994, makes the counter-intuitive argument that the public option stands a better chance of passing if Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid leaves it out of the bill he brings to the Senate floor.

Excluding the public option from the Senate bill could broaden the health care debate. Republicans will complain that they need assurances that a public option won't be added in during conference. They'll spend more energy questioning the constitutionality of the individual mandate, the wisdom of eliminating the overpayments to private insurers participating in Medicare Advantage, rationing abortions to women, and ensuring that legal immigrants don't have access to care ...

Democrats could then add the public option to the final health care bill during [the House-Senate] conference, when they reconcile the House and Senate bills. Reid may not have 60 Senate votes for a public plan, but then again, he doesn't need them. The Senate requires 60 votes to break a filibuster and 50+ votes to pass a bill. During the negotiations, Pelosi will likely argue that she needs a public plan to pass a health care bill in the House and the White House will lean on Reid to include some kind of public option.

A legit argument, though one with which I happen to disagree.

Preventing right-wing opposition from suffocating health care legislation on the Senate floor would not necessarily become easier without the public option as a target. There are plenty of hysterical attacks to be made against the individual mandate that can be just as effective as those against the public option when not countered properly.

Furthermore, conservatives are experts at taking peripheral, obscure components of legislation and blowing them up into evidence of a government plot to kill your newborns and serve them as pork burritos to illegal immigrants when the new death panels break for lunch.

Those risks persist no matter what is in the bill. Once a high-profile bill comes to the floor, those risks can only be dealt with head-on.

It's also no certainty that the House can prevail upon the Senate to add a public option in House-Senate conference. That will only happen if Senate moderates can be convinced that there is no reason to be skittish. And that can only happen if the public option debate is fully engaged and voters in those key states respond to our arguments, out-shouting the right-wing noise machine.

Otherwise, Pelsoi and House progressives could be easily pressured to back down.

But Volsky's argument is a reminder that how Reid merges the Senate health committee and Finance committee bills (assuming there is a Finance bill) is not the final word.

If Reid leaves the public option out, Sens. Chuck Schumer and Jay Rockefeller plan to put a public option amendment on the full Senate floor. If Reid puts it in, surely someone will have an amendment to take it out.

I'd rather see the debate start with the public option in the bill, and see right-leaning Dems have to make the case for taking it out.

I suspect many of them will have a sudden epiphany that they don't want their constituents seeing them in the spotlight, trying so hard to deny voters an affordable alternative to private insurance.

But either way, the public option almost certainly will get a stand-alone vote on the Senate floor. Which as a contested issue, is the way it should be.

And we will have to make our case too. There's no way around that. In fact, we should relish the opportunity.

Originally posted at