09/11/2009 02:31 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Will Harry Reid Lose His Senate Seat To Take the Hit on Health Care?

Harry Reid is losing in the polls in his own state of Nevada to almost any GOP opponent for the 2010 Senate race, and Danny Tarkanian leads him 49-38 in the polls. Charlie Cook just downgraded his 2010 race to a tossup.

But that brings up an interesting question.  There are two health care bills in the Senate, one written by Max Baucus's Finance Committee (which includes provisions from a back-room price gouging deal with PhRMA and a $3800 fine on Americans for being uninsured) and one written by Ted Kennedy's HELP Committee (which includes the cost control measure of a public plan).  Kennedy worked on the HELP Committee bill up to his death and was committed to its passage, and many have said that a public option program should be named in his honor.

It will be up to Harry Reid as Majority Leader to combine thse bills in some fashion for the Senate to vote on as a whole.   And at that time, Reid is either going to choose to include the HELP Committee's public option that the insurance industry vigorously opposes, or go with the Baucus bill that was authored by a former WellPoint VP. 

Today, Reid endorsed the oo-op plan put forward in the House by Blue Dog Mike Ross.

Members of the Senate have said repeatedly that "we don't have the votes" for a public option as their justification for passing an insurance industry bailout bill.  But as Congress Matters notes, this must mean that there are Democratic Senators who are willing to join with the Republicans and filibuster the Kennedy public option:

To say that no plan with a public option can pass the Senate means -- when there are 60 Democratic votes-- that Democrats like Bayh and Baucus will have to stand with Republicans in filibustering a public option in order to prevent it from getting to a vote. Unless Bayh and Baucus are saying there aren't 50 votes for it, either, which is certainly something I haven't heard said yet.

Chris Bowers has been keeping track of where each Senator stands, and he reports that no Democratic Senators "oppose" the public option.  They just say the votes aren't there.  So who are these Senators? Will we ever get a chance to find out?

The Majority Leader keeps his job by making his fellow Democratic Senators happy, and keeping them from being put in an awkward position is job one.  Democratic Senators who won't even publicly say they oppose the public option are not going to want to be put on the spot.  They will want him to protect them from taking the political hit for casting a vote against the Kennedy HELP bill. 

So when Harry Reid settles on how he will combine the bills, is he willing to incur the wrath of those who will claim that he's shielding his fellow Senators by excluding it?  Can he take the hit in his own state from a brutal assault of attack ads that will certainly ensue, claiming he's facilitating an insurance industry bailout by excluding a provision that would have contained costs?  When the Nevada public learns that he's personally responsible for fining them $3800 if they refuse to pay for expensive premiums from Blue Cross, how will his poll numbers fare?

In short, will doing what it takes to save his Majority Leader status make Harry Reid lose his Senate Seat?


Jane Hamsher blogs at