Barack Obama says he supports a public option but claims there aren't 51 votes in the Senate to pass it in reconciliation. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin says he would aggressively whip the 51 votes for the public option if Nancy Pelosi would send him a House reconciliation bill that includes a public option. Nancy Pelosi says she won't include a public option in House reconciliation bill because there aren't enough votes in the Senate to pass it. It's looking more and more like a game of 3-Card Monty.
Meanwhile, over 40 Democratic Senators have signed a letter or otherwise indicated that they would vote for a public option if given the opportunity and it is almost certain to garner at least 51 votes if it actually came to the Senate floor. But every leading Democrat is doing everything possible to avoid an up or down vote on the public option and pointing the finger at someone else for killing it.
It's all Kabuki theater to cover up the truth that President Obama made a backroom deal with the for-profit hospital industry that the final health care bill would not include a national public option.
Despite the popularity of the public option among voters, no one in the Democratic leadership is willing to allow an up or down vote on the public option that might force Obama to go back on this deal and sign a bill which includes a public option.
Obama's deal to kill the public option--made with the Federation of American Hospitals, the lobbying group for America's for-profit investor-owned hospitals--was documented in an August 13 article in The New York Times:
"Several hospital lobbyists involved in the White House deals said it was understood as a condition of their support that the final legislation would not include a government-run health plan paying-Medicare rates...or controlled by the secretary of health and human services. 'We have an agreement with the White House that I'm very confident will be seen all the way through conference', one of the industry lobbyists, Chip Kahn, director of the Federation of American Hospitals, told a Capitol Hill newsletter...Industry lobbyists say they are not worried [about a public option.] 'We trust the White House,' Mr. Kahn said."
Obama's deal with big Pharma that Medicare would not be allowed to negotiate lower drug prices and that Americans would not be allowed to buy cheaper drugs from Canada and other advanced countries has been widely covered. But except for the Times, the media has failed to cover Obama's deal with the for-profit hospitals to block a public option.
Yet protecting this deal is the only rational explanation for the torturous efforts by the Democratic leadership to prevent a final up or down vote on the public option at all costs.
If the Democrats are intent on passing a flawed and largely unpopular health care bill through reconciliation, then including a public option should be a "no brainer." Polls show that the public option is supported by approximately 60% of voters while the overall bill is only supported by about 1/3 of voters, so including a public option could significantly increase public support for Democratic health care reform. According to the Congressional Budget Office, a public option would save between $25 billion and $110 billion over 10 years, depending on how robust it is in tying reimbursement rates to Medicare. Given the failure of the Democratic health care bill to place any limits on how much private insurers can charge consumers for health care policies they are mandated by the government to buy, a public option is about the only proposal still on the table that might make it more difficult for insurance companies to continue raising premiums by 10%, 20%, 30% or more per year, while voters blame Democrats for their increased premiums despite the passage of healthcare "reform".
The only reason the Democratic leadership is doing everything it can to avoid an up or down vote on the public option is that it would force Congressional Democrats to choose between the interests of the voters and the interests of the special interest funders whom Obama made a deal with.
It's time to expose this deal more widely and embarrass Obama and Congressional Democratic leaders into doing the right thing.
UPDATE: On Friday afternoon Adam Green of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee appeared on The Ed Show and named 51 Senators who are on record supporting a public option if it comes up for a vote. In addition to the 41 who have signed a letter saying they would do so, he named Kay Hagan, Claire McCaskill, Tom Harkin, Jay Rockefeller, Herb Kohl, Mark Begich, Max Baucus, Mark Warner, Jim Webb, and Robert Byrd. (There's also VP Joe Biden to break a tie in the unlikely event there were only 50 votes). Link to it here
So Nancy Pelosi no longer has the excuse that she won't include a public option in the House reconciliation bill because there aren't 51 votes in the House. Nevertheless, as Ed Shultz responded, it may not happen "if a deal was cut long ago that everyone said we'll talk about the public option but it isn't going to happen".
Given the 51 vote whip count for the public option, the only rational explanation left for excluding it from the House reonciliation bill to be sent to the Senate is to protect House and Senate members from having to vote for, and President Obama having to sign, a final bill that includes the public option in violation of Obama's backroom deal with the for-profit hospitals that there would be no national public option.
A number of Democratic House and Senate members who say they support the public option may be being disingenous--They want to reassure their base which supports a public option, but they don't wan't to actually be forced to back it up with a final vote which would offend special interest campaign contributors.
If House and Senate Democrats, in collaboration with President Obama, choose the interests of special interest campaign contributors over the interests of the voters--and the desires of their base whom they need to actively campaign for Democrats, donate money, and vote in large numbers--then the Fall, 2010 election results could be really bloody for Democrats.
The story of this White Houser backroom deal to block a public option needs to be diseminated as widely as possible as quickly as possible, before Pelosi locks the final House bill in stone without a public option. It's the only chance to embarrass the White House and Democratic Congressional leaders to choose the voters over the special interest funders.
I encourage programs like The Ed Show, Countdown and The Rachel Maddow Show to prominently cover this story right away, and not be concerned, if they are, about damaging their relationships and access with and to the White House by exposing this backroom deal.