A big day for the public option

The Senate Finance Committee, a pivotal player in the healthcare reform debate, takes up the idea

Published September 29, 2009 2:45PM (EDT)

If healthcare reform does pass Congress any time soon, and the final legislation contains a public option, we'll all probably look back on this day as key. That's because the Senate Finance Committee, a pivotal player in the whole drama, is taking up at least two possible amendments that would add a public option to its bill.

It's by no means assured that the public option can pass the committee. And if it does, it could still die when it comes to a vote in the full Senate. There are still enough Senate Democrats who've wavered on the subject, or who outright oppose the idea, that it seems like it'll be very tough to get the caucus to hold together and provide all of the 60 votes that would be needed in case of a Republican filibuster. In the committee itself, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., the chair, has seemed lukewarm at best when it comes to the public option, and that's one of the reasons the committee's bill -- which he's spent a fair amount of time shepherding -- doesn't include it.

For right now, we know of two amendments that would add a public plan to the legislation being considered. One is being introduced by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., who's modeling his proposal on Medicare. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., is responsible for the other.

There's still the possibility of a third amendment, though, one everyone's watching for. Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, the lone Republican who's seemed willing to support some form of the Democratic proposals, may offer some sort of "trigger." That's a compromise proposal in which the public option would not be active at first, but would be launched if private insurance companies don't meet certain targets by a given date.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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Healthcare Reform Jay Rockefeller D-w.va. Max Baucus