11/25/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Public Option Fight Gets Engaged in Public for the First Time Next Week

The most conservative committee in Congress is finally getting ready to consider the first public votes on the public option, with amendments by Schumer and Rockefeller that will likely be considered on Tuesday. The Finance Committee, led by two of the most conservative Democrats in the House or Senate -- Max Baucus and Kent Conrad -- will be the first place the public option finally sees the light of day, getting debate and votes in front of everyone.

Given the poll numbers, and Baucus' past statements supporting the public option, you would think this would be a no-brainer, that no Democrat would want to risk alienating voters who overwhelmingly support it, or the fired-up party activists and donors who have been passionately fighting for it for months. Look at the polling analysis just done by Health Care for America Now:

Support for Individual Mandate Contingent on Public Option: The polls, conducted by Anzalone Liszt Research and Lake Research Partners for Health Care for America Now in mid-September, each found that likely 2010 voters oppose "requiring everyone to buy and be covered by a private health insurance plan" but support "requiring everyone to buy and be covered by a health insurance plan with a choice between a public option and private insurance plans." A mandate that individuals have coverage or pay a fine is a key feature of health care reform proposals that require insurance companies to cover everyone regardless of pre-existing conditions.

Nationally, voters oppose a mandate to purchase private insurance by 64% to 34% but support a mandate with a choice of private or public insurance by 60% to 37%.

"Requiring everyone to buy and be covered by a private health insurance plan"

National: Oppose 64% to 34%
House Swing: Oppose 60% to 34%
Maine: Oppose 55% to 35%

"Requiring everyone to buy and be covered by a health insurance plan with a choice between a public option and private insurance plans"

National: Favor 60% to 37%
House Swing: Favor 50% to 46%
Maine: Favor 55% to 40%

Note: In all three polls, half of those surveyed were asked each question.

All of the health care reform proposals that have passed Congressional committees to date, including three House committees and the Senate HELP Committee, include an individual mandate and the choice of private or public health insurance. The Chairman's mark introduced into the Senate Finance Committee includes the individual mandate without the choice of a public health insurance option.

With numbers like this, and with the entire Democratic base mobilized intensely around the issue, you would have to be politically tone deaf as a Democrat to oppose this, but this is the Senate Finance Committee, so public option advocates are likely to lose these votes. The question, though, will be the margin. On a committee this conservative, far more conservative than the Senate as a whole, if we only get seven votes for the public option amendments, that would have to be considered a major political victory, and a sign that the public option can definitely get a majority vote on the floor.

Of course, the traditional media won't report it that way -- anything that goes against their cast-in-iron conventional wisdom belief that the public option is dead will not be reported. Chuck Schumer nailed it last night on Rachel Maddow: this is just the first step, in the most conservative possible setting. This vote is all about laying the ground work for the Senate floor fight and the conference committee fight after that, both of which are far more favorable to public option advocates. With polling numbers like those above, and an activist base on fire on this issue, it is going to be more and more difficult for Democrats to vote against the public option when they have to vote in the light of day.

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