Can healthcare reform pass without a public option?

Dropping the idea might help in the Senate, but House liberals could kill the bill

Published August 17, 2009 7:35PM (EDT)

The Obama administration seems like it's getting ready to drop the idea of a public option from healthcare reform legislation if it means getting a bill passed. Ironically, though, such a move could actually make passage more difficult -- sure, it would probably smooth the way through the Senate, but the House is a different story altogether.

The real obstacle for President Obama and for Democratic congressional leadership may be the large contingent of liberals in Congress' lower chamber; if they band together -- and they've started to do that -- they could pose a serious threat.

With a hat-tip to Jane Hamsher, here's how the math works in the House: There are 435 members altogether, meaning 218 votes are necessary for passage. Kiss 178 Republican votes goodbye -- it'd take a minor miracle to get even one of them to support the Democratic plan. That leaves 256 Democratic votes (there's one vacancy) and means that Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer can afford for 38 of their members to jump ship, at most.

Problem is that without a public option, Pelosi and Hoyer have already lost more votes than that. Last month, 57 Democratic representatives signed a letter proclaiming their opposition to an agreement negotiated with the more conservative Blue Dog Democrats. In it, they wrote, "Any bill that does not provide, at a minimum, for a public option with reimbursement rates based on Medicare rates -- not negotiated rates -- is unacceptable."

The number of Democrats who'll vote against the bill if they believe it's too conservative could go as high as 100, Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., told CNBC during an interview Monday morning.

“If the president thinks he’s cutting a deal to get Senate votes, he’s probably losing House votes,” Weiner said. He also suggested that healthcare reform would be essentially meaningless without a public option, echoing a similar sentiment expressed by progressive Dems such as Howard Dean.

"If he says, 'Well, we're not going to have that,' then I'm not really quite sure what we're doing here anymore," Weiner said.

By Tim Bella


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