Public Option Nears Finance Committee Vote
The public option debate in the Senate Finance Committee was originally scheduled for a vote today, but it was pushed back to Tuesday. While the chief cheerleaders on the committee are not entirely hopeful about its prospects in the committee, they certainly sounded confident about it overall.
"The health care bill that is signed into law by the President will have a good, strong, robust public option," (Chuck) Schumer said.
How that will happen remains an open question. But the Senators assured reporters on the call that we're all going to get a taste of their passion and persuasiveness on this issue at the ongoing Senate Finance Committee hearings on Friday.
"I think it's a great idea," (Jay) Rockefeller said of the public option. "Chuck Schumer thinks it's a great idea. And we're going to be all over it tomorrow." [...]
Schumer said that "a large majority of Democrats are for a public option" -- but that the ratio is higher in the House than the Senate, and higher in the Senate than in the Senate Finance Committee.
"I think we have a real good chance on the Senate floor," he said.
Schumer and Rockefeller have a lot of weapons at their disposal. First off, there's the pure popularity of the measure, which has ticked up in recent weeks, at 65/26 in the latest New York Times poll. This is also true in the case of swing district Democratic seats, who not only express a fundamental desire for health care reform this year, but support a public option and reject a trigger. This is also a crucially important piece from that polling:
It's wrong to think about the public option in isolation from other elements of reform. Forcing an individual mandate without a public option is a clear political loser (34% Favor / 60% Oppose), and only becomes more palatable when a public option is offered in competition with the private sector (50% Favor / 46% Oppose)
And swing district voters have already decided the private sector has failed to keep healthcare affordable, and want a public option now (48%) instead of waiting for a trigger (36%).
A mandate without a public option will be extremely unpopular because people can sense that the idea of a forced market for private insurers is designed in the interests of those insurers, not them. This is really elementary stuff.
I don't know if whether this report about Blue Dogs fading in their opposition to the public option relative to other health care goals is a sign that they're learning from these reports or not. They seem to be more interested in the regional disparities in Medicare reimbursement rates, which is really a payoff, but if those rates were adjusted, opposition to a public option tied to Medicare rates in some fashion would probably fade away. Especially considering that it's the fiscally responsible thing to do, per the CBO.
The original House bill required the public plan to pay providers 5 percent more than Medicare reimbursement rates. But as part of a package of concessions to Blue Dogs, the House Energy and Commerce Committee accepted an amendment that requires the HHS Secretary to negotiate rates with providers. That version of the plan will save only $25 billion.
In total, a public plan based on Medicare rates would save $110 billion over 10 years. That is $20 billion more than earlier estimates, a spokesman for House Speaker Pelosi said.
We'll see if this arsenal of evidence can convince Senators who really just want to protect the status quo, and more important, protect industry profits. We're finally going to see where they stand when the Finance Committee votes. We'll be watching.