Is the public option dead?

The Senate's bill might not include a public plan, and Harry Reid won't take a position

Published July 28, 2009 10:55PM (EDT)

Ah, the public option -- the proposal for a government-run insurance plan as part of the larger healthcare reform package currently being debated in Congress. President Obama wants it, but can live without it and most House Democrats want it, including some who won't vote for a bill without it. But Republicans hate it, as do some conservative Democrats in the House and the Senate. Right now, it looks like the latter group may win out.

The Senate Finance Committee has been in negotiations for some time now over its proposed legislation. Those talks have been led by committee Chair Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who's no fan of the public option, and they have reportedly resulted in a conclusion that there will be no such plan in their version of the bill. That's bound to make some other Senate Democrats happy -- some of them don't like the idea, while others want Republican votes for the bill, whether for political cover or because they like the idea of bipartisanship. (Others, of course, will be unhappy.)

And without those Senate Democrats, the bill might not pass, because their colleagues wouldn't have the votes to overcome a filibuster. For now, that means Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid isn't taking a position one way or the other.

"What I think should be in the bill is something that I will vote for according to my conscience when we get this bill to the floor,” Reid said Tuesday. “But I have a responsibility to get a bill to the Senate floor that will get 60 votes that we can proceed toward .... There are times I have to set aside my personal preferences for the good of the Senate and, I think, the country."

Problem is, every other bill currently under consideration includes a public option, and in the House, there might not be enough Democratic votes for the final bill if it doesn't include the government plan. That will mean further headaches down the line, especially when it comes time to reconcile the bills passed by each chamber.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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