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Progressives Prepare to Pressure Reid to Include Public Option in Senate Health Care Bill
Major progressive organizations see a golden opportunity to resurrect the public option, and are preparing a campaign, which will include television ads in Nevada, to pressure Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to get on board.
As I've noted a number of times, the public option will not be in the Senate Finance Committee's health care bill, but it can re-emerge at three key points in the legislative process. Among those, one of the most important is the next step, when Reid merges the Finance bill with a more liberal proposal from the Senate HELP Committee. If he adopts the latter panel's public option, it would dramatically alter the nature of the legislative battle, shifting the onus from liberals, who have been doggedly fighting to include the public option in the Senate bill, on to conservative Democrats, who would have to decide whether their opposition to the popular measure is so strong that they'd be willing to join the GOP in a health care filibuster and tank the entire reform effort.
Such a move would likely alienate Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), the only Republican working with Democrats on health care reform, and require Democratic leaders, including Reid and President Obama to make sure all 60 Democrats stand united when Republicans try to block the bill--a tall order, and one Reid doesn't seem prepared to meet.
"If Harry Reid does not have the leadership skills to get 60 votes for cloture and give a Democratic president an up-or-down vote on health care, progressives will help defeat him in 2010, even if that means Republicans take that seat," said the head of one progressive organization, who's still working out the detail of the campaign. "There is no use for Reid's vote if 60 Democratic votes means nothing on cloture, and no use for Reid's leadership if his leadership is so blatantly ineffective."
That might not be such a troubling threat if Reid, who's up for re-election in 2010, wasn't suffering at the polls.
Leadership, which will work with the chairmen of both the Finance and HELP committees, along with White House officials, when it cobbles together the final bill, says its main concern is ensuring that any bill that reaches the floor has 60 votes for cloture. And though that would likely be easier in absence of a public option, conservative Democrats and Republicans would still be able to have their say by introducing an amendment to strip it from the bill. That amendment would also likely require 60 votes, and would almost certainly fail. But it would give skeptics a chance to go on the record.
A call to Reid's office for comment on the coming ads was not immediately returned.