The Secret Letter
I'm hearing from sources about a letter to Harry Reid from a collection of liberal Senators, led by Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Sherrod Brown, insisting that Reid publicly commit to putting a public option in any health care bill that reaches the Senate floor. There's a big difference between having a public option in the bill before the fact or trying to get it in by amendment. It's likely that amendments to the bill will require a 60-vote threshold, therefore it would take 60 votes to get a public option into the bill if it's absent, or 60 to get one out of the bill if it's present. Nobody has said that there are those numbers of votes to do either of those actions. So whether the bill comes to the Senate floor with a public option or not is a crucial decision. The four people in that room making that decision are Max Baucus of the Finance Committee, Tom Harkin of the HELP Committee, Harry Reid and someone from the White House. A lot of this will depend on the White House's inclination, and they certainly floated their support over the weekend. But Reid's public statements have been noncommital.
The liberal faction in the Senate, led by Rockefeller and Brown but also for the first time including Sen. Barbara Boxer, want a real commitment. According to sources, Sen. Reid will meet with this faction at 5pm ET. Senator Reid's office confirms that this meeting will be held today. So presumably, some kind of accommodation will be offered, although the liberal Senators in the meeting will seek a definitive commitment, I'm told.
There have been various talks from public option supporters in the Senate about wanting to see it in the final bill, but this is the furthest it has gone, to my knowledge. Some Senators, like Sen. Boxer, are going on the record insisting a public option for the first time. Of course we don't know what form this "public option" will take - the Wall Street Journal reports today that Tom Carper's state-based approach is gaining support among Senate moderates, and Debbie Stabenow in a press conference today confirmed that this is a possibility:
In a press conference this morning with other Democratic senators, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) -- member of the Senate Finance Committee and a supporter of a robust public option -- says it's a "broad definition."
"The states are one way to go," she said
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who also sits on Finance and supports a public option as enthusiastically as Stabenow does, added, "There are state options that are devised in such a way that only a region of the state is included, in which case that's not really a significant public option."
"If the whole state is included in a public option -- they have that option -- well that's a much more significant standard than some that have been proposed," Menendez told reporters.
I would assume that Reid may offer this as a compromise inclusion in the bill. We'll see if the Brown-Rockefeller faction will take the deal. Certainly they are pushing very hard for a higher standard than that. And with the House of Representatives close in getting majority support for a public option using Medicare +5% rates, perhaps that gives them some leverage too.
...Greg Sargent reports that Nancy Pelosi just floated a lesser public option with negotiated rates, not Medicare +5%, to the Dem caucus, prompting outrage. I'm seeing a convergence here, with the Senate pushing up from the rank and file to get any public option into the bill, and the House pushing down from the leadership to get a public option that can pass the Senate.