Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 23, 2010

TWO STEPS FORWARD ON PUBLIC OPTION, ONE STEP BACK.... The letter to Senate leaders on passing a public option through reconciliation picked up its 22nd and 23rd signatures over the last day, with Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) joining their colleagues.

Far more discouraging, though, were remarks from Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), an enthusiastic supporter of the public option, who conceded yesterday he's not inclined to pursue the measure through reconciliation.

"I'm probably not going to vote for that, although I'm strongly for the public option, because I think it creates, at a time when we really need as much bipartisan[ship] ... as possible. "

Rockefeller added: "I don't think you [pursue] something like the public option, which cannot pass, will not pass. And if we get the Senate bill -- both through the medical loss ratio and the national plans, which have in that, every one of them has to have one not-for-profit plan, which is sort of like a public option."

In making his sentiment known, Rockefeller becomes perhaps the most unexpected skeptic of the public-option-via-reconciliation route. The Senator was a huge booster of a government run insurance option during the legislation drafting process this past year.

It's worth clarifying that Rockefeller seems to support approving changes to the Senate bill through reconciliation, consistent with the White House plan presented yesterday, but is opposed to pursuing a public option through this route.

As much as Rockefeller's work on this has been appreciated, his rationale isn't exactly persuasive. He's afraid of appearing "partisan"? Funny, Senate Republicans, who refuse to give legislation up-or-down votes at levels unseen in American history, don't seem to worry much about appearances.

Nevertheless, as a practical matter, Rockefeller's hesitancy may very well make the larger effort impossible. Dems would need at least 50 senators to give the public option a chance, and Rockefeller was considered a likely ally, not opponent.

Unless Rockefeller changes his mind -- or unless he's bluffing as some kind of larger and hard-to-understand strategy -- an uphill climb has gotten considerably steeper.

Steve Benen 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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Sigh.

Another day, another "I'm going to pull my freaking hair out" explanation from someone on 'our' side about why they are having misgivings/second thoughts/bipartisan-pony fantasies about supporting 'our' side...

Posted by: terraformer on February 23, 2010 at 9:26 AM | PERMALINK

Really people, let's not start thinking that the public option is actually going to be up for a vote. It's just a show or a bargaining chip, nothing more.

Posted by: Matt on February 23, 2010 at 9:32 AM | PERMALINK

Oh. I guess I look like a goddamned idiot for calling for Rocky to become majority leader when he supported the PO for five minutes. I'll just cover up this latest embarrassment by telling you that YOU'RE ALL A BUNCH OF NAIVE FOOLS WITH BAD HAIR!

Posted by: Disdaino on February 23, 2010 at 9:37 AM | PERMALINK

To me it seems likely that he recognizes the potential for the public option to derail the fragile momentum that has been rebuilt. Pass the damn bill is likely to be easier without the public option. That is hard for me to say since I want as robust a public option as possible, but it is probably the truth.

Posted by: Chris on February 23, 2010 at 9:43 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe Rockefeller's thinking of the Blue Dogs as being more or less another party, which would be the target of his desired bipartisan outreach.

In practical terms, that's probably the best way to think of them - as the 'other party' that Dems can often (but hardly always) negotiate with, as opposed to the GOP, which is the other party that has no interest in negotiations.

Posted by: low-tech cyclist on February 23, 2010 at 9:43 AM | PERMALINK

If I was Obama and setting the stage to pass HCR, I would go into the meeting with the options to the Republicans being vote for my bill or we use reconciliation with the public option. Take your pick. All the moves so far with Senators signing on to the public option and Clyburn saying he has the votes in the House and now Rockefeller, an adamant supporter of the public option, saying he wants to keep the bill bipartisan if possible (wink, wink)all help with this strategy (if it is an actual strategy). One can only hope.

Posted by: Th on February 23, 2010 at 9:47 AM | PERMALINK

Well, this "legislation" has me hating Dem far worse than hating Pubes. At least with the can'ts you know where they stand and they're consistent. Why are Democrats so stupid? Are they cloned from Larry Craig?

Posted by: Trollopoly on February 23, 2010 at 9:48 AM | PERMALINK

It is clearly incorrect that Rockefelller signals support for reconciliation in that statement.

I have no idea where Benen gets that from.

Posted by: Armando on February 23, 2010 at 9:50 AM | PERMALINK

Or he could be trying to avoid another Lieberman spite move. When the Medicare buy in option was put on the table most liberals were lukewarm to it, and that's when Lieberman supported it. But when Liberals started to get excited about the possibility of a buy in, he suddenly flipped against it. Maybe this is some level of Duck Season/Rabbit Season.

Posted by: Dervin on February 23, 2010 at 9:51 AM | PERMALINK

Rockefeller would be, I think, the 50th vote for a public option, but will not be the 25th. Call back later.

He has also long been pushing restricting medical loss to under 15% as an alternative means to getting premium price control. If you have minimum actuarial values on policies and maximum medical loss ratios and a non-profit plan in the exchange, you get through regulation what you want the public option to deliver through competition.

Posted by: tom in ma on February 23, 2010 at 9:54 AM | PERMALINK

I agree with Rockefeller. Not on the partisan part. Who gives a rip about that? But the PO just isn't going to make it. It's far more complicated than getting just 50 votes, since it's not a strict budgetary issue. So what's going to happen is that the base is going to get all excited just to be crushed once again when it fails. Make the current bill as good as possible. Then work to improve it later.

Posted by: Phil on February 23, 2010 at 9:55 AM | PERMALINK

Isn't he the same joker, Rockefeller, who made absolutely sure the FISA bill was rammed down our collective throats? I guess if spying on your own population and then granting immunity to Telecoms at their efforts to succeed at it is about the same thing as backing away from something that would help out all of those people you just spied-on. Like J-Bird, nauseating...

Posted by: stevio on February 23, 2010 at 9:58 AM | PERMALINK

My Hebrew is weak. Is 'shibboleth' the Hebrew for 'public option'?

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on February 23, 2010 at 10:00 AM | PERMALINK

Phil, you may be right about the PO vis a vis reconciliation. FWIW, howard dean said he thought it was more likely that medicare expansion was doable in this way, which sounds fine to me.

Posted by: benjoya on February 23, 2010 at 10:04 AM | PERMALINK

I think there is a non-bipartisan-pony-wish interpretation for Rockefeller's position, but I would need someone who understands the institution and the personalities better to confirm it. Anyway, here's my thoughts...

If I understand this correctly, the plan is to pass two bills: 1. the House passes the Senate bill EXACTLY as it was passed by the Senate and Obama signs it. 2. a separate bill which is deemed a budget bill so that it can go through BUDGET reconciliation which is not subject to a filibuster is passed by both houses and signed by Obama.

The second bill overrides features of the first and might even add some stuff in. BUT, the second bill is subject to the Byrd rule which means that the Senate parliamentarian gets to rule on whether or not specific sections are actually budget items and I believe can just cross them out (or some more Senatorially pompous operation which amounts to the same thing). I'm not sure when the parliamentarian reviews the bill in the sequence of events, but I can see a scenario where the Democrats put a deal together which gets Senate and House progressives on board because of a public option and the parliamentarian drops it after a lot of time has been spent on the negotiation and you have to start over again.

Possibly, Rockefeller is saying, I don't believe a deal which includes a public option in the budget bill is sufficiently likely to get past the Senate rules that I want to risk negotiating anything away to get it. Or maybe he's not saying that, but is this a real concern?

Is there anyone who actually understands this crap who can comment one way or the other?

Posted by: jhe on February 23, 2010 at 10:20 AM | PERMALINK

Mr. Greenwald calls this sad theater a "deceitful game" by the Dems. When it's 60 we need. It's just out of reach. And now that it's 50 we need. Well, we just can't quite get there either. Darn. Funny how that works.

http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/02/23/democrats/index.html

From the article:

In other words, Rockefeller was willing to be a righteous champion for the public option as long as it had no chance of passing (sadly, we just can't do it, because although it has 50 votes in favor, it doesn't have 60). But now that Democrats are strongly considering the reconciliation process -- which will allow passage with only 50 rather than 60 votes and thus enable them to enact a public option -- Rockefeller is suddenly "inclined to oppose it" because he doesn't "think the timing of it is very good" and it's "too partisan." What strange excuses for someone to make with regard to a provision that he claimed, a mere five months ago (when he knew it couldn't pass), was such a moral and policy imperative that he "would not relent" in ensuring its enactment.

Posted by: burro on February 23, 2010 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

Sorry I missed the pithier formulation from Phil - so yeah - what he said. I agree and I have heard that Medicare expansion is probably a slam dunk for parliamentary approval for budget reconciliation.

Posted by: jhe on February 23, 2010 at 10:24 AM | PERMALINK
Pass the damn bill is likely to be easier without the public option
Except for the extensive opposition the PO-less bill has in the House.

I don't see this as pragmatic, just idiotic. The entire assumption behind dropping the PO is that the sane wing of the party will vote for anything as long as you say "You have no choice, and BTW, Rahm says you're retarded."

I don't think that's true even if it is the prevailing Beltway orthodoxy.

Posted by: squiggleslash on February 23, 2010 at 10:30 AM | PERMALINK

What this tells me is that Rockefeller's previous position on the public option was pure bullshit. He was a piss poor excuse for a Democrat during the Bush administration. I'm sorry to see he is back at it.

If there is no public option, I'd like to see part of the reform be that Congress get their health coverage taken away and dump the bastards on the open market.

Posted by: karean marie on February 23, 2010 at 10:35 AM | PERMALINK

It's becoming more and more obvious that current Democratic Legislators AND President need strong, intransigent, progressive opposition. NOW. If the US only acts rationally when there is an undeniable crisis, then the sooner that crisis occurs, the better.

Posted by: gdb on February 23, 2010 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

Well, it's Tuesday with a big meeting scheduled for Thursday. I don't believe anything anyone says is their real stand. It is all theater.

Posted by: Th on February 23, 2010 at 12:31 PM | PERMALINK

Since a HCIR bill that includes a PO will reduce the Federal deficit more than a HCIR that DOESN'T include a PO, I fail to see how the parliamentarian wouldn't rule in its' favor. The deficit being part of the Budget and all...

Posted by: Doug on February 23, 2010 at 10:18 PM | PERMALINK

The ONLY rationale I might excuse for this sentiment is that Lieberman and other Blue Dogs voted for cloture with what amounted to reassurance that a public option that would save money and keep private firms honest would NOT be in the final bill.

There's something to be said for keeping even bad promises. Bipartisanship? You can hope for the second coming to bless it too if ya like. Ain't happenin' and it's dumb to even bring it up as a laudable goal. Getting Republican votes is less likely than picking up another 24 Democrats and I don't give them good odds of pulling off that miracle.

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on February 25, 2010 at 3:32 PM | PERMALINK

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Posted by: Eddie Mehrotra on March 24, 2011 at 9:08 AM | PERMALINK
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