Tom Harkin, who succeeded the Late Ted Kennedy as the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) Committee, was on MSNBC's The Ed Show yesterday. Ed pushed Sen. Harkin on the matter of including a public option in the reconciliation sidecar to the health care legislation. Sen. Harkin, a strong supporter of the public option, insisted that it could not be included if it hurt the chances of the overall package, and indicated that including it would do exactly that. Here is the whole interview.

So these are the basic facts here. The fear that the inclusion of a public option in the context of the current package and process (Senate bill plus reconciliation) may jeopardize the overall health reform legislation is real and legitimate. From what Sen. Harkin said, it's not just the Senate that has a problem with the votes for the public option. The House might also. Ed brought up the fact that the House already passed the public option, so naturally, it follows that the House has the votes for it in reconciliation. Not so, said Harkin. The votes in the House included a group of Democrats who voted for the bill on the condition of the Stupak amendment, some of whom may peel off because the abortion language in the Senate bill is weaker than the House-passed bill. Since Stupak can't be re-inserted via reconciliation - and who among us would want to, even if it could be? - several votes would be lost in the House because of that. Stupak himself is predicting a loss of about 10-12 votes because of the abortion language.

How do you make up those votes? You can't make them up from I'm-so-pure-I-vote-with-Republicans Kucinich types who didn't vote for the House bill because it wasn't progressive enough. They are sure as hell not going to vote for a package that overall resembles the Senate bill more closely than the House bill. So where do you get the votes? You get it from Democrats who voted against the original House bill because, in their view, it was too liberal - mostly because it had the public option. If you want their vote, you have to take the public option out. And those more conservative Democrats will not vote to pass the Senate bill unless they are reassured that the public option won't be put back in using reconciliaiton. Maybe this is why only 120 House Democrats signed the letter asking for a public option in reconciliation.

Speaker Pelosi knows this. That is why she has repeatedly said that the public option will not likely make it into a reconciliation bill (and thus the overall healthcare package). And now, she has confirmed it once again by saying that it's now off the table.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) predicted Sunday that she would find the votes to pass a health care overhaul and said Democrats had already made major concessions to Republicans, including ditching the public insurance option.

“A year later, we’re closer to what Republicans were suggesting at that time, an exchange and not a public option,” she said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Pelosi said, “There is no public option on the table now.”
Remember that there is only one shot at this particular reconciliation package. We can't afford to get this one wrong. If the House and Senate are unable to agree on the exact package, there is no reconciliation bill. It may well also be the case that absent the assurance of a reconciliation bill, there is no bill at all. Given that health care will get no Republican cooperation, the balancing act among Democrats is difficult and delicate - between left puritans in the House who refused to vote for the House bill in the first place because it was not left enough, right ideologues in the House who refuse to accept anything less than the Stupak language on abortion, and a combination of conservative and liberal senators who do not believe a public option should be put through reconciliation.

People who are responsible for guiding health reform through Congress - and who are all strong proponents of a public option - know that we have reached a point at which the public option is simply not viable as a part of the current health reform package. Tom Harkin is one of the best progressive Senators we have. Nancy Pelosi is a health care hero. The author of the strong public option in the Senate, Jay Rockefeller, has also said he'd oppose attempts to include the public option through reconciliation. They all understand that a public option now is detrimental to the effort to pass overall comprehensive health reform at this point. And the dirty little secret is that so do the people signing the Whip Congress letter. Ezra Klein has repeated noted, without being disputed by any Senator's office, "No one I've spoken to -- even when they support the public option -- thinks that its reemergence is good news for health-care reform."

The push for the public option is, frankly, complicating efforts to round up the votes, scaring Democrats who are having to take rather tough votes on health reform in a rough political climate, and weakening the chance of overall reform. If anyone here can count votes better than Nancy Pelosi or Tom Harkin, go ahead, give it a try. But I am going to take their judgment and push to move the overall package forward, and fast.

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