However, those who are cheering on a "Reconciliation first" strategy simply or primarily because of the possibility of having the public option should take a breather. Speaker Pelosi - who yesterday said that the Senate has no obstacle to move to reconciliation (and thus elated the supporters of the 'Reconcile First' strategy) - today poured cold water over the idea of a public option being included in a reconciliation package. In no uncertain terms: "The Senate never supported the public option."
There was talk that there would be 51 votes for it, but it never passed on the floor of the Senate. It did pass in the House and, of course, I think it would be the way to go. But it isn't the way that the Senate went. And so I think that what you might see coming out of some reconciliation would be those areas of agreement that all three--the White House, the Senate and the House--had already agreed to...more than two weeks ago.
The Speaker is correct. According to the Washington Independent's count on Nov 12, the public option had 51 likely supporters in the Senate. However, many of these Senators, including Jim Webb and Claire McCaskill, who will not support comprehensive reform done through reconciliation (read: public option). As it is, there are more than enough Democratic (and Democratic-caucusing) Senators on the fence to derail reconciliation altogether. Some sort of reconciliation is still possible, but only given some of these Senators' willingness to pass narrow measures through reconciliation, not broad measures like a public option.
Narrow measures such as, as Pelosi said (and Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel backed up), what was going on 'more than two weeks ago,' specifically, before Scott Brown was elected
Harkin (D-Iowa), who attended healthcare talks at the White House, said negotiators were on the cusp of bringing a bill back for final votes in the Senate and House.
Harkin said “we had an agreement, with the House, the White House and the Senate. We sent it to [the Congressional Budget Office] to get scored and then Tuesday happened and we didn’t get it back.” He said negotiators had an agreement in hand on Friday, Jan. 15.
Harkin made clear that negotiators had reached a final deal on the entire bill, not just the excise plans, which had been reported the previous day, Jan. 14.
Harkin said the deal covered the prescription-drug “donut hole,” the level of federal insurance subsidies, national insurance exchanges and federal Medicaid assistance to states.
While the Speaker has said, more than once, that she wants the Senate to push through a reconciliation package in order for the House to act on the Senate bill as is, we now know with a pretty good deal of certainty that even she does not believe that a public option can be part of such a side car. And the Speaker as well as House Democratic leaders have said previously that yes, they can pass health care legislation through the House without a public option.
House Majority Whip James Clyburn, a big supporter of the public option, said in no unequivocal term that he himself would vote for a bill without the public option. In fact, he went further. He said that the Senate has produced a very good bill:
"I believe that both the House and Senate bills make tremendous contributions toward bending the cost curve," the congressman from South Carolina said. "I think they do a great deal to bring more people into the system. I think though that the House bringing the 36 million additional people, the Senate bringing 31 million additional people, I think that the more the merrier in this instance. So I do believe that the Senate has done a very good bill. But I think that the House has done a very good bill as well."So to be sure, the belief that a sidecar fix should go along with the Senate bill through the reconciliation process is not at all in conflict with the belief that the Senate bill, stand alone, is of itself a very good bill. Sen. Al Franken agrees.
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said in December that the House can pass a bill without the public option.
And Pelosi has today, for the second time, reminded us of the reality that a public option will not be going through the reconciliation process.
I should remind everyone here that Nancy Pelosi has done incredible work in passing the public option through the House, and I am not going to let anyone speak ill of her leadership on health care reform. She is, in my book, a health care hero. But Speaker Pelosi is not alone in her assessment that a reconciliation bill will not, in fact, include a public option. Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, Co-Chair of the House Progressive Caucus, agrees. In fact, she goes further, saying that a public option not only does not have votes, but that it does not fit under budget reconciliation.
"I don't believe it fits in the reconciliation," said Progressive Caucus co-chair Lynn Woolsey (D-CA). "All that is is budget."Today, Woolsey released a letter with Rep. Grijalva, seemingly contradicting her position and calling for a public option in reconciliation. However, I will simply note that wanting something in reconciliation and acknowledging it's not possible is, not a complete contradiction.
So, just two recap - two of the hardest fighters for health insurance reform and for the public option do not believe that a public option can be included in budget reconciliation - both for counting-the-votes reason and for the restrictions on what can be included in a budget reconciliation bill according to the rules. In other words - and I hate to say this - the public option is dead this go-round. It's not coming back. When you make your calls demanding reconciliation (and I'm all for demanding reconciliation), keep that in mind.
The choice before us, then, is rather stark. When you clamor for a reconciliation bill, you must realize that it will not include your (and my) favorite thing: the public option. It might include, to repeat myself:
- a national exchange (some progressives, including Howard Dean happen to think state based exchanges are better when a bill like the Senate bill is the underlying bill; see my comparison for detail)
- closing the Medicare prescription drug donut hole faster (although the Senate bill, as is, does eventually close it also)
- adjusting subsidy levels (which I pointed out might be considered a wash between the Senate and the House bills, but the House bill does have more money devoted to subsidies - hence the greater coverage)
- "fixing" and exempting unions from the excise tax for a period of time ("fix" that wouldn't solve any of its underlying problems)
- giving all the states the Nebraska deal on Medicaid.
So, I need to pick up the phones again. You need to call your member of the House and your Senators - even if you have already called. First, call the Capitol switchboard and ask for your member of the House. Tell them politely but firmly that you expect your member to vote for the Senate health care bill as is so that it can be signed by the President. Then urge them to follow up with a reconciliation bill to fix it (or find your member at House.gov). Call the Capitol switchboard back and ask to speak to your Senators (you can also find your Senators on Senate.gov). Tell them you expect them to follow through on the House's reconciliation bill. Call Harry Reid also if you like, as well as Speaker Pelosi. Here are the toll-free numbers: