Sen. Blanche Lincoln bails on the public option

The Arkansas Democrat won't be voting for the public option. Will more desertions follow?

Published September 2, 2009 3:25PM (EDT)

This is exactly why all the election-time talk of getting 60 Democrats in the Senate was overblown: Yesterday, Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., said that she won’t be voting for the public option.

Lincoln spoke with reporters just before delivering remarks at the University of Arkansas. Said the senator, “I’m not going to vote for a bill that’s not deficit-neutral, and I’m not going to vote for a bill that doesn’t do something about curbing the cost in the out years, because it would be pointless . . . I would not support a solely government-funded public option. We can’t afford that.” (Hat-tip to Josh Kraushaar.)

Although a bill with the public option is indeed expected to be deficit neutral, Lincoln has a lot of other things to worry about. Though she's one of the more conservative members of the Senate Democratic caucus, polls of voters in her red-leaning state have shown her trailing little-known challengers. A Public Policy Polling survey has her behind newly-declared Republican challenger state Sen. Gilbert Baker, 40 to 42. And another recent Democratic poll pegs disapproval of the president’s healthcare proposals at 60 percent, with only 29 approving.

If these are the numbers for Lincoln, they can’t be much different for Democrats like Sens. Mary Landrieu, Ben Nelson, Kent Conrad and Bill Nelson. None of those senators have officially announced their opposition to the public option, but they're trending that way, and the White House must be keeping a worried eye on them. Meanwhile, the only other member of the Democratic caucus who’s come out against the public option is Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and the only Republican who looks like a possible yea vote at the moment is Maine’s Olympia Snowe. (Democrats are also, of course, still down a vote thanks to the open seat in Massachusetts.)

No wonder that the Democrats are talking about both using the budget reconciliation process, which could help dodge the 60-vote threshold, or making further compromises.

By Gabriel Winant

Gabriel Winant is a graduate student in American history at Yale.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

2010 Elections Blanche L. Lincoln D-ark. Healthcare Reform U.s. Senate