The signs are everywhere: the public option is gaining momentum.
Obama is working on a plan to pass the health package, presumably to include the public option which he still wants, without relying on Republicans. Senate Democrats are confident they can use the budget reconciliation process to pass the public option with only 51 votes, since it affects government outlays and is therefore relevant to the budget. Schumer indicated that Baucus has until 15 September to cut a deal with Grassley – an unlikely prospect -- and then the bipartisan phase of the process is pretty much over. Watch for Obama to step out and publicly call for the public option right after 15 September, perhaps on the succeeding Wednesday or Thursday, in time for the PR campaign to gin up and hit the Sunday talk shows.
Even Harry Reid, hardly a wartime consigliere, said he’s willing to pass a bill by whatever means necessary; in fact he warned the Republicans back in April that the Democrats could pursue this route if the GOP refused to cooperate, which they clearly have. Reid faces a tough reelection race next year – a win on health care would certainly help him, and he knows it (although it wouldn’t bother me if the Majority Leader job went to someone with some nads like Schumer).
The Democrats know they might as well pass the public option language they want, because even if they water it down into a co-op plan (which has already taken fire as an impractical idea), the Republicans admitted they still won’t vote for it – in fact they won’t vote for any reform bill, regardless of what’s in it, as Kyl admitted.
The Republicans clearly fear the budget reconciliation plan, which would allow the bill to pass with 51 votes instead of 60. They are now whining that a bill this important should pass only with an 80-seat majority, a suggestion which is not only an idiotic deviation from Constitutional law, but is also completely contradictory to the way the Republicans used the very same 51-vote process to ram many of Bush’s policies down Democratic throats. In fact, the Senate Democrats are already launching a PR war, highlighting the GOP’s use of the reconciliation tactic when it was to their advantage. For instance, Republican Senator Judd Gregg, who hates the reconciliation idea now, loved it back in 2005:
"The fact is, all this rule of the Senate does is allow a majority of the Senate to take a position and pass a piece of legislation, support that position. Is there something wrong with majority rules? I don't think so."
In yet another desperation measure, the Republican members of the Gang Of Six are trying to ensure that their bill not only does not include the public option, but also precludes the public option from ever being added later, for example in a final conference bill. This will simply make it easier for Obama to give up on the Gang Of Six.
Watch Mitch McConnell: he is a sharp parliamentarian, and if he can figure out a way to gum up the works in the Senate, he will surely do it. Reid needs to have everything nailed down perfectly and cleared through the Senate parliamentarian, before he pulls the trigger, and he needs to be ready for all manner of stalling tactics. McConnell will do anything he can to slow down the train: demanding that the whole 1000-page bill be read backwards in Latin, whatever.
Republican resistance to the real world of fact is beginning to crumble, just a bit. Olympia Snowe, a Republican member of the Gang Of Six, made the extraordinary admission that insurance corporations do indeed have too much power. In the same vein, Grassley, who we now know will face a serious Democratic challenger for his Senate seat in a very blue state, finally admitted that he lied about the death panels (although, from pure reflex, he blamed Obama for the whole misunderstanding).
Of course these are Republicans – they’re not going to give up lying entirely. Fox is screeching that Obama has prepared a “death book” to kill off our troops (as in the “death panel” case, again they are referring to texts originally disseminated by…the Republicans). And the Republicans are working on a Scare Grandma Resolution, demanding that Obama guarantee that he won’t pull the plug on old folks, cut their Medicare, impose rationing or government interference in health care for seniors, reduce treatment options, jack up fees, interfere with end-of-life decisions, kill puppies, drown kittens, cancel reruns of “Matlock”, etc etc. This is going to backfire, badly, particularly since the guy pushing this, Michael Steele, now has bigger problems, since he just publicly insulted John Boehner and Roy Blount.
Footdragging Democrats are getting angry messages from their constituents regarding health care: stop screwing with Obama and pass the public option! It now has 77 percent support across the country! The Democrats in question include Blue Dog Jim Cooper of Tennessee and Max Baucus himself, who was finally impelled to tell the locals that he does indeed want the public option (finally!) and to admit that the Republicans simply aren’t going to accept health reform. With their constituents, the polls, their party leaders and their president all telling them to do what they know they should do anyway, it will be (pardon the expression) progressively harder for them to resist common sense.
[UPDATE -- Cooper is now backpedalling. Oh, no, I always favored the public option!!]
Speaking of footdragging Democrats: Lieberman is currently whining that budget reconciliation is an unacceptable idea, and that spending money on health care should wait until the recession is over. Surely he realizes that his treachery last summer almost cost him his committee chair: as far as Obama and Emanuel are concerned, he has used his last “Get Out Of Jail Free” card, and a betrayal on Obama’s signature legislative program could get Lieberman dumped into the Senate Committee on Janitors and Paper Clips. Or, a primary challenge in his next race – Connecticut is a very blue state which would like to have, you know, a real Democrat representing it.
TPM made an excellent point: Democratic footdraggers like Kent Conrad keep saying the Democrats couldn’t muster the 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, if it comes to that – but at no point has any Democrat identified himself, or any other Democrat, as a vote in favor of supporting the filibuster. Name me a Democratic Senator who is going to stand up on the Senate floor and filibuster his own president’s signature legislative effort.