Is Reid ready to give up on the public option?

The Senate majority leader may push forward with healthcare reform that doesn't include a government-run plan

Published September 28, 2009 4:29PM (EDT)

An article in Sunday's New York Times on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., will surely incite angst among progressives for a variety of reasons.

For one thing, the article -- entitled "Reid the Quarterback May Call on Obama to Referee" -- discusses how Reid, never a favorite of liberals due to his governing style of gentle persuasion and his seeming unwillingness to push back aggressively against Republicans, is now the Senate's point man on healthcare reform. The majority leader is now working to reconcile two competing healthcare proposals that have emerged from Senate committees so that the body as a whole can vote on a single measure.

This brings us to the second problem for progressives. The article cites unnamed senior Democratic Senate aides who told the Times that a combined bill will not contain a public option for insurance. Liberals see a government-run insurance option as a key to healthcare reform because it would provide competition for private insurers. Reid is apparently interested in dropping the option in order to appeal to centrist Democrats and Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, the lone Republican who appears even slightly willing to vote in favor of the Democrats' proposals for overhauling the system.

Now, the public option has already died a thousand deaths during the healthcare reform debate and the Times article is careful to point out that Democratic Senators will likely propose amendments that include it once a final bill has been hammered out. But, as Greg Sargent notes, while the Democratic aides referenced in the piece weren't necessarily from Reid's office, the emphasis of the piece suggests that Reid is firmly in charge of the Senate's dealings on healthcare and he's ready to concede the public option.

Rodell Mollineau, a spokesman for Reid denied the rumors that Reid has given up on the public option. “It would be wildly speculative of me to say that has been predetermined,” Mollineau said. “It would be wildly speculative of me to say what is going to be in that bill ... Right now, we don’t know.”

For what it's worth, polls show -- depending on how you ask the question -- that a public option remains popular with Americans. Plus, it would likely drive down insurance costs and Democratic senators like New York's Charles Schumer and West Virginia's Jay Rockefeller have voiced their support for the idea recently.

By Vincent Rossmeier

Vincent Rossmeier is an editorial assistant at Salon.

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