The Beginning Of The End For The Public Option

Today, the Senate Finance Committee rebuffed two amendments to include the public option in its health care reform bill. The first amendment, offered by Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) went down 15-8. The second, put forward by Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), failed to pass by a 13-10 vote.

So, now what? Is the public option dead? Will the fight go on? Yesterday, Democratic consultant Peter Feld assayed today's committee machinations and warned: "Spoiler alert: the public option goes down in a ritual sacrifice of which this is step one." Want to bet he's wrong?

I'd advise against it, after seeing Schumer appear on Hardball this afternoon. Host Chris Matthews introduced Schumer as "a strong champion of the public option," but failed to make much note of the many buckets of water he was hauling on Senator Max Baucus' (D-Mont.) behalf.

Schumer began with the good news: sure, the public option failed in the Senate Finance Committee, but once the bill is out in the Senate, it will fare better. Why? Because, according to Schumer, the "most difficult terrain for the public option" is the finance committee because it's "more conservative than the Senate Democrats as a whole, and the Senate Democrats as a whole are more conservative than the House and the conference." "This was really good news for us!" Schumer enthused, apparently unaware that Max Baucus and Blanche Lincoln and Kent Conrad do not suddenly become entirely different people just because they've entered a different room.

But that's Schumer's outlook! Everything's going to get REALLY AWESOME now, and hopefully your concept of "really awesome" is a public option "trigger!" "There may be some adjustments and tweaks we have to make," Schumer said. HINT HINT.

Watch Sen. Schumer's appearance on Hardball:


Elsewhere, Schumer was just out there, deflecting heat from Baucus, who apparently hasn't figured out how to do that by sewing together a thick sheet of insulation out of the thousands of dollars he's earned from the health care lobby. Chris Matthews showed Schumer this ad, which savages Baucus. In it, Montana resident Bing Perrine describes the extent to which he's ended up in crippling six-figure debt from treatment of a congenital heart defect and a lack of health insurance. In the ad, Perrine makes his point very clear:

"Senator Baucus, when you take millions of dollars from health and insurance interests that oppose reform and oppose giving families like mine the choice of a public option, I have to ask: whose side are you on?"


This ad -- which, really, Baucus should be confronted with, on the teevee -- draws Schumer's blithest tsk-tsk: "It's hurting us. And I wish they wouldn't do it." But how does this ad hurt? The ad actually points out the precise reason the public option is foundering: a lot of well-financed special interests are purchasing legislation that eliminates it. That is why the public option is struggling to live. There is no other reason.

But Schumer, who has himself raised $1.65 million from the financial services sector, would rather pretend that he lives in a world where all of that money isn't having any sort of impact on lawmaking, and in which pointing that out is hurtful. What's helping? Schumer says that the polling is what matters: "A New York Times survey found 65% of the public are for [the public option]." WOO! Of course, as anyone who's followed this issue knows, the first and easiest thing that gets dismissed in the health care debate is the popularity of the public option. I'm not sure why these poll numbers matter now, except as a means of getting Schumer out of this conversation.

And really, Baucus couldn't ask for a better Gunga Dun than a man who'll say this on his behalf:

SCHUMER: What we have to do is show Max Baucus that we have the votes. Today he said he likes the public option. If he thought there were 60 votes on the floor of the Senate he'd be for it.

This is a mind-blowing example of anti-logic. Surely Chuck Schumer knows that Baucus would be one of those 60 votes. Surely he understands that Kent Conrad and Blanche Lincoln, who also voted against the public option -- voted against his amendment! -- are also two of those 60 votes. I really don't think Schumer should be allowed to come on teevee and not make sense to the extent he's not making sense. By his thinking, Max Baucus "likes the public option," but Max Baucus is playing a wait-and-see game to see if it will gain the support of Max Baucus. If Max Baucus ends up supporting the public option, then Max Baucus can add his support.

Schumer, by the way, didn't even attempt to explain why Tom Carper wouldn't vote for the Rockefeller amendment. At least Max Baucus and Kent Conrad can claim to be from competitive districts. As the Washington Independent's Dave Weigel points out today, Carper won his seat by over 40 points.

But that's how the public option is going to die. A bunch of Democrats will vote it down because their seats are too vulnerable. Then, a bunch of Democrats will vote it down because their seats are too safe. The health care industry will have spent its money wisely, and Bing Perrine will hopefully have enough bake sales to pay to fix his heart, so he doesn't die. Circle of life!

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