Amendments offerered by Senator Jay Rockefeller and Charles Schumer to the Baucus health care bill which would include a public option failed in the Senate Finance committee.
The vote was 8 ayes, 15 nays for the Rockefeller amendment. All Republicans and five Democrats voted against it.
The Schumer amendment had 10 ayes, 13 nays. with three Democrats voting against it and making the difference — Senator Conrad, Senator Lincoln and Senator Baucus.
This is not the end of the public option however. First, the House has said they will not vote for any final bill that doesnt have it. And there will be opportunities in the future to add a public option amendment to any final bill brought to the senate floor and both Schumer and Rockefeller said there would be.
Senator Baucus who voted against both amendments admitted he was putting process ahead of content, being more concerned about what he thought he could pass on the floor than in what he believed was best. While Baucus said he saw a lot of good things in a public option he said he didnt see “at this time” how it would get 60 votes and so voted against it.
The public option has been the most contentious aspect of health care reform but also the aspect that most people supporting reform consider the most important.
Senator Grassley’s opposition to the public option had more to do with his belief that it would lead to a universal health care system than to concept of the public option itself . Grassley’s other objection was that he believed it would put insurance companies out of business.
This on the heels of other Republican opposition in the House claiming a government run insurance option would be so bad, so inept and deliver such inferior care that it would be a disaster. Taken together the two objections are absurd, on one hand saying a government run plan would be ineptly run and deliver inferior care and on the other that so many people would want it the insurance companies couldnt compete and would go out of business.
Republican Senator John Ensign continued the “soothsayer” responses of the Republicans objecting to the public option not because of anything substantive that was in the proposal but on a series of “what if’s” that were all based on sheer speculation.
Max Baucus, while admitting the public option is a good idea, while admitting it would “hold insurance companies feet to the fire”, and admitting it would do all the good things it was intended to do, voted against both public option amendments based on the fact that he didnt think he could get 60 votes, in his words. “at this time”. Presumably it would only need 59 since one hopes Senator Baucus would realize he would be the 60th.
However it’s not certain that 60 votes would be needed, since Democrats who didnt support a public option wouldnt necessarily vote to sustain a filibuster since it could be made poilitically difficult for them. Once a bill got to the floor of the senate it would only need 51 votes to pass and those Democrats who objected could vote against it.
Today’s vote notwithdstandng there will certainly be a public option included in the final bill to be voted on in the senate. Schumer promised that they will be back again with new public option amendments to be included both in the finance committee bill and on the final bill to reach the floor of the senate. Whether it will pass is an open question. But Senate Democrats who voted against it are sure to be targeted in their home states by pro public option groups and with a new CBS poll showing 65% want a public option those Democrats who are apt to vote against might be doing so at their own political peril.