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Friday, October 23, 2009

Pelosi Lacks Votes For Public Option

Democratic leaders are going in circles these days with Harry Reid "leaning" towards including a public option in the final bill to be debated in the Senate and Nancy Pelosi getting the news from a whip count done, that she lacks enough votes to get healthcare reform aka Obamacare through the House if it does have the public option.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) drive for a public option in healthcare reform ran into turbulence Thursday when a survey of her caucus showed she needs more votes to pass such a bill.

The survey ordered by Pelosi turned up 46 Democrats who said they would vote against the so-called “robust” public option, according to a Democratic lawmaker who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

If Republicans unite against the health bill, as they’re expected to do, 39 Democratic defectors would block it from getting the 218 votes needed to pass.

The Democratic lawmaker, who is in favor of the public option, said leaders are considering pulling the liberal public option from the bill and looking at other alternatives, such as a public option detached from Medicare coupled with an expansion of Medicaid, the healthcare program for the poor. That approach, called “negotiated rates,” is supported more by House centrists, including many Blue Dog Democrats.

The Politico reports that even Obama seems to be backing away from the so-called "robust" public option that Nancy Pelosi has been been pushing so hard for.

Administration officials have been telling POLITICO for weeks now that this the most likely compromise because it can probably satisfy liberals—albeit only reluctantly and after many vent frustration and some even threaten to walk away from the bill.

This would clear the way for backers to sneak a limited public option through the Senate by attracting moderate Democrats and then to win President Barack Obama's signature.

Obama told Democratic leadership at the White House Thursday evening that his preference is for the trigger championed by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) – a plan that would allow a public plan to kick in if private insurers don’t expand coverage fast enough, a top administration official told POLITICO. It’s also sign Obama is interested in maintaining a sense of bipartisanship around the health reform plan.

At that meeting, Obama did not sign on to a plan being floated by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to include a different variation of the public option in the Senate bill – a plan that would create a national public plan but allow states to “opt-out.” Reid now believes he can get 60 votes to bring a bill with that plan to the floor by breaking an expected GOP filibuster – and then secure the 51 votes needed to pass it.

But Pelosi’s vote-counting didn’t go as well in the House. There has been a flurry of rumors that a robust government option remains viable. But top House Democrats privately concede that is wishful thinking that ignores the power of moderate Democrats in this debate.

Emphasis mine in that first paragraph.

What the White House is counting on is that far left liberals will beat their chests, scream and yell, then fall in line and continue to support them, even if the "robust" public option is thrown to the side.

The New York Times reports that there is a bipartisan consensus, just not the one that Reid or Pelosi was hoping for.

Moderates from both sides of the aisle, do agree on a certain point:

As word of Mr. Reid’s intention spread Thursday, centrist senators from both parties said they had come together in an informal group to resist creation of a uniform nationwide public insurance program.

Leaders of the group, including Senators Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska, and Olympia J. Snowe, Republican of Maine, said they wanted to be sure the bill was not rushed to the floor.

One of the centrists, Senator Mary L. Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana, said: “I am pressing to get a government-run, taxpayer-supported public option out of the bill. I want to rely on a reformed private marketplace.”

Another member of the centrist group, Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, said: “There are a lot of senators from both sides of the aisle who have a sense of unease about all the bills that have been reported out of committees thus far. In a 60-vote scenario, it is the centrists potentially who will hold the balance of power.”

To get to 60, Mr. Reid would need the vote of Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats. Mr. Lieberman, a member of the centrist group, has said he opposes a public option “right now,” but would judge specific proposals in the context of a larger bill.

In the meantime The Hill reports that given problems plaguing the Democratic leadership, the timeline continues to be pushed back and now no one expects any final vote until December.

They want adequate time to review the legislative language and to give the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) a chance to provide a detailed cost estimate.

As a result, the legislation will not reach the Senate floor sooner than the first week in November and has no chance of being approved by Thanksgiving. Democratic and Republican lawmakers expect the floor debate to take at least a month, putting negotiations between the Senate and House squarely in December.

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said last July that the healthcare debate could take until Christmas, but now some lawmakers think even that prediction is beginning to look optimistic.

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), one of the centrists calling for the go-slow approach and the only Republican in either chamber to vote for a healthcare reform bill this year, said Thursday that a bill may not reach the president’s desk until next year.

That is the worse case scenario for Democratic politicians because the brings them into the 2010 election campaigning season and many handicappers are already predicting double digit losses for the House.

In the Senate, Harry Reid has his own problems as both his Republican challengers are ahead of him in the Nevada polls and moderate Democrats, especially those that were voted into conservative districts, will be less likely to go against their constituents and vote for anything resembling a public option.