How the Public Option Would Likely Get A Vote During Reconciliation

If Democrats use reconciliation to pass a health care bill and even
one Senate Democrat actually supports the public option, or one Senate
Republican thinks it makes political sense to force a vote on the
matter, there will likely be a vote on a standalone amendment to add a
public option. One of the important aspects of reconciliation is that
any amendment offered normally gets an up-or-down vote provided it
meets the rules.

According to the rules of budget reconciliation, debate is limited
to only 20 hours in the Senate. At the end of debate, pending
amendments which are germane and don't violate the Byrd rule normally
get up-or-down vote. Neither reconciliation measure nor amendments to a
reconciliation measure can be filibustered.

A rapid process of voting on the pending amendments to the reconciliation measure is called a "vote-arama." From the Congressional Research Service (PDF):

When the 20-hour debate limit has been
reached, Senators may continue to consider amendments and motions to
recommit with instructions (and to take other actions as well), but
they may not debate them unless unanimous consent is granted. The
circumstance under which debate time on a reconciliation measure (or
budget resolution) has expired but amendments and motions continue to
be considered has come to be known as "vote-arama." As a general
matter, accelerated voting procedures sometimes are put into effect
under a vote-arama scenario, allowing two minutes of debate per
amendment for explanation and a 10-minute limit per vote.

A public option and/or some form of Medicare/Medicaid/Tricare buy-in
should be able to easily be designed to be germane and not violate the
Byrd rule. If cost savings and the fact that the program would
technically be on the budget are not sufficient to satisfy the Byrd
rule, other steps can be taken; for example the "reference plan" which
is used to instrumental for calculating the amount of tax credits on
the exchange could be replace with cost of premiums for the public

If any one senator offers a public option amendment to the
reconciliation bill, or better yet, several amendments of different
variations of public health insurance alternatives, it should likely
get an up-or-down vote during the vote-arama.

The biggest concern is that a public option amendment would be swept
up in an action to stop a Republican filibuster by amendments. Awhile
back Republicans were threatening to use the "vote-arama" to create a filibuster by amendments by offering thousands of amendments to stop the final passage of the reconciliation measure. If Republicans attempt this, David Waldman outlined
how Harry Reid and Joe Biden could put a stop to it. In theory the
public option amendments could be swept up in the effort to clear
hundreds of Republican amendments.

Harry Reid and Joe Biden might use clearing on any planned
Republican filibuster-by-amendments to stop the public option from
getting a vote, or some other parliamentary trick to do the same. Of
course this would require Reid and Biden to actively take steps to deny
the American a vote on one of the most popular provisions related to
health care, which they both claim to support.

If (and that is a big if) Democrats move forward with health care
reform using reconciliation, it is likely that there will eventual be
an up-or-down vote on the public option. All it takes is one senator to
offer a properly designed amendment - perhaps one of the 30 Senate Democrats
who are on record saying they support an up-or-down vote on the public
option. Maybe the American people will finally get to see who stands
with the American people and which senators are working to protect the
profits of the private insurance companies.

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