Public option in better position after Senate vote, backers say

Although the Senate Finance Committee defeated two public option amendments yesterday, the surprisingly strong vote for a public insurance plan put the health care reform movement “in a better position for the coming war,” spokespeople for Health Care for America Now said.

“In the most conservative committee in the Senate, which is itself the most conservative house of Congress, a public health insurance option got the support of an overwhelming majority of the governing party,” notes HCAN’s Jason Rosenbaum. “And as such, it sets the stage for the next step.”

The amendments submitted by Democrats Jay Rockefeller, W.Va., and Chuck Schumer, N.Y., would have added a public health insurance option to the bill drafted by committee chair Max Baucus, Mont. Rockefeller’s amendment would have created a public health insurance option based on Medicare. It was defeated 8-15. Schumer’s, which would have created a “level playing field” public health insurance option, was defeated 10-13.

What reform advocates are noting is that 10 out of 13 Democrats on the committee, including the more conservative Bill Nelson, Fla., and Tom Carper, Del., and “moderate” Ron Nyden, Ore., voted for a public health insurance option. Rosenbaum called their votes “pleasant surprises … something that we didn’t know beforehand.”

The three who sided with the Republicans to defeat both amendments were Max Baucus, Mont., Kent Conrad, N.D., and Blanche Lincoln, Ark.

“In a long debate on the amendments,” Rosenbaum commented on the HCAN blog, “senators spoke out vigorously in favor of the idea” of the public insurance option. They “pushed back hard on the misinformation coming from the opposition. The intellectual and moral case for the public health insurance option was clear.”

So far, four out of the five congressional committees that are handling health reform have already passed a public health insurance option. Despite the far-right hysteria barrage, polls consistently show the public continues to overwhelmingly support the idea.

These “facts on the ground” will impact what happens next. The next step for the public health insurance option is for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to merge the Finance Committee bill with the one passed by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

Yesterday’s Finance Committee debate and vote “was the first step in building momentum for a public health insurance option in the Senate,” Rosenbaum said. “Clearly, the idea has weight – even self-described moderates such as Bill Nelson and Tom Carper voted for it. As we move to the floor and into conference, with Schumer, Rockefeller, and other champions pledging support and whipping their colleagues, those numbers can and will continue to grow. I believe, like Schumer does, that a public health insurance option will be in the bill President Obama signs into law. It’ll take work, and it won’t be pretty, but it can and will happen.”

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who chairs the HELP Committee, said yesterday there are “comfortably” 51 Senate votes for a bill containing the public plan, and he believes there will be 60 votes to break a Republican filibuster and allow the bill to be passed.




Susan Webb
Susan Webb

Susan Webb is a retired co-editor of People's World. She has written on a range of topics both international - the Iraq war, World Social Forums in Brazil and India, the Israel-Palestinian conflict and controversy over the U.S. role in Okinawa - and domestic - including the meaning of socialism for Americans, attacks on Planned Parenthood, the U.S. as top weapons merchant, and more.