A similar letter signed by House members isn't doing much better, like it or not. It has 120 House Democrats. That is also less than half of the Democratic caucus in the House, and only slightly more than 218 votes required to pass a bill in the House. The House has of course already passed a bill with a public option, and will do so again if given the chance. But why, then, didn't all 219 House Democrats who voted for the House bill sign up to push for the public option?
The simple fact is this: the appetite for the fight over the public option is simply not big enough to get it through in Congress. Even the Senators signing onto this letter don't want to re-litigate the public option. Ezra Klein took stock of it last week:
I've spoken to a lot of offices about this now, and all of them are ambivalent privately, even if they're supportive publicly. No one feels able to say no to this letter, but none of them seem interested in reopening the wars over the public option. That's why the White House kicked this at Reid and Reid tossed it back at the White House. If the public option is a done deal, everyone will sign on the dotted line. But between here and there is a lot of work that no one seems committed to doing, and that many fear will undermine the work being done on the rest of the bill.
No one I've spoken to -- even when they support the public option -- thinks that its reemergence is good news for health-care reform. It won't be present in the package that the White House will unveil Monday.My impression is that popular as it may be, it is holding up actually moving forward on health reform, and legislators are tired of getting yelled at from both sides of the political spectrum while having nothing accomplished.
Not only are there only 23 senators signing that letter, one of the champions in the Senate of the public option, Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), whose valiant fight for the public option is more than any screaming head on a blog or on a television screen will ever do, essentially ruled out the public option in reconciliation. Another supporter of the public option, Tom Carper's (D-DE) office flat out said that he will not support the public option through reconciliation. Mark Begich (D-AK) will not be signing the letter and previously expressed reservations about the reconciliation process.
There are those who would like to hold up health reform altogether because of the public option. They are wrong. And I know that these days, it's fashionable in the left-ideological blogosphere to bash the President for not including it in his latest proposal, but the fact of the matter is that now is that right now, the votes are not there. Right now, opening a brand new battle and holding health reform hostage to the conclusion of that battle will only serve to lessen the chances of health reform, not increase it. However important, no one component alone makes health reform worth passing, and the lack of no singular provision is enough to kill health insurance reform. That is what hangs in the balance here. We Democrats need to be united on this issue. The President has now provided a direction that draws upon the Senate bill and strengthens affordability, closes the Medicare drug benefits donut hole completely, provides all states significant assistance in the expansion of Medicaid (not just to Nebraska) and actually brings some needed fixes to the Cadillac tax in addition to delaying it (like letting it vary by age and region), all of which, by the way, tracks closely with what was already negotiated prior to the arrival of the 41st Republican Senate vote and what Pelosi and Harkin had said was going to be there anyway. Tomorrow, there will be the health care summit at the White House. After that, we must all line up behind this bill and get it passed. No more delays. No more scorched earth policy. Let's pass health reform - no if's, but's, or and's. No holding the bill hostage to a public option. Let's pass it, and let's pass it quickly.