"I'm all in."
Well, well, well...
Turns out I may have been all wrong about Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. In the big poker game that is the health care debate, Senator Reid has pushed all his chips into the pot.
Yesterday, Reid announced that the health care reform bill that will be submitted to the floor of the Senate will include the so-called public option. Oh, my! How must this cause the defenders of the status quo to chafe at their collars! The public option has been pronounced dead by the punditry, by various congresspersons, by nearly everyone. At times, even the Obama administration has expressed skepticism.
And then Reid goes and does this...
According to the all-wise punditry, Reid's plan works like this:
- In order to pass a bill that includes a public option, supporters must first overcome a Republican filibuster. That takes 60 votes. But, as we all know, if you count the two democratic-leaning independent senators, Bernie Sanders (Vermont) and icky Joe Lieberman (Connecticut), the Democrats have the magic number.
That means that Reid has to hold together his entire caucus, which is no mean feat. God knows, every single senator has an ego that cannot be comfortably confined within a given state's geographical borders. And some of the more conservative members of the caucus (for example Ben Nelson (Nebraska) and Mary Landrieu (Louisiana)) are on record against a public option.
But the fact that Reid has made this announcement indicates that he is confident he can hold his caucus together.
- Provided he can achieve cloture, Reid can then bring the bill to the floor, where it will require only a simple majority to pass: a minimum of fifty votes, plus Vice-President Biden's tie-breaker. But according to Senator Tom Harkin (Iowa), Chairman of the Senate Health Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, there is a "comfortable margin" in favor of the public option.
That gives conservative Democratic senators an "out." They vote for cloture, then they vote against the bill. That way, Mary Landrieu (for example) can say: "Although I did not support a government-run health care plan, I felt that the American people deserved an up-or-down vote, yadda, yadda, yadda."
- There is still the possibility that, when the Republicans realize they cannot stop the bill, they will start defecting from their party's position and vote in favor of passage. Senator Reid left the door open, in particular for Maine's two senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.
- The proposed public option is likely to be less than perfect from a progressive point of view. It is likely that there will be an "opt out" provision for states. That is, individual states can decide not to participate in the public option. (There will be another battle over how that decision can be made. Is it up to a state's governor and legislature? Or is it a public referendum?) Also, of course, the public option is itself a compromise from the Medicare-for-all, single payer solution that progressives advocate.
Personally, I don't think the "opt out" provision is a big problem. Once a public plan is in place, states will clamber over each other to get into it. It's going to save money for everyone, and no neo-confederate state governor is going to put much into fighting it. Remember how the supposedly principled GOP governors all gobbled up the stimulus money that they so vociferously opposed?
- The Obama administration is (infuriatingly) staying out of the fray. Call it pragmatism; call it good politics; I call bullsh*t. The President has an amazing capacity to resist pressure from his base. But he needs a health care bill, any health care bill. The rumor is that the administration was pulling for a so-called "trigger" that would stipulate that a public option be implemented only if health insurance providers failed to meet certain criteria after a given amount of time. The "trigger" might have brought Snowe on board, giving the bill a sheen of bipartisanship. But progressives objected, stating the obvious: health insurance providers would do the bare minimum required to avoid the "trigger," all the while jacking health care consumers. Same old game. (And, besides, Mr. President, you can't bargain with a rattlesnake.)
- If this all plays out, and a health care reform bill that includes a public option becomes law, it is a huge victory for progressives. Just yesterday, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Illinois) admitted that progressive Democratic senators forced Reid's hand, by threatening to sink any bill that did not include a public option.
So, returning to the poker analogy, Harry Reid is all in. Now let's see how the other players respond.