There are a number of places to pass the public option: in the Finance Committee, in the merged Finance-HELP bill, on the Senate floor, and/or in a House-Senate conference. Few people expect the Finance Committee to pass it: Baucus, Bill Nelson, Conrad, Lincoln and Carper are shaky, and even Schumer’s second proposed amendment, the least liberal of the three public option proposals, would have a tough climb. Firedoglake noted that the Chamber of Commerce is attacking the Schumer amendment but not attacking the more liberal Rockefeller amendment, possibly a sign that the fatcats are afraid that the Schumer proposal could actually pass. Even if the public option doesn’t pass in Finance, a close loss would provide some momentum for it.
Some staffers say that the merged Finance-HELP bill won’t have the public option either, due to Reid’s wobbliness; others said the White House would not weigh in on the process at that point, preferring to wait until the House-Senate conference. However, other sources say that Harkin will defer to Reid on the merged bill, while Reid reportedly will defer, in turn, to Obama – for the merged Senate bill, not for the conference later on. One source says that the merged bill will be hashed about by a White House official, Reid, Harkin and Dodd – not Baucus, interestingly. If a milquetoast like Reid goes into a room with Harkin, Dodd and, say, Emanuel, they’re coming out of the room with the public option in the language. We might have clues on the merged bill by the end of the week.
Another factor which will make it easier for the real Democratic leaders to toss out the Baucus bill in favor of the public option: the whole point of Baucus making all those concessions was to win Republican support, but now Republican governors are assembling a huge campaign to fight the Baucus bill. So what was the point again?
So after the merged bill is the Senate floor – another place to fight for the public option – and then the House-Senate conference. Some suggest that the conference was always the one and only path to passing the public option, but perhaps Obama could make it happen earlier, in the merged bill or on the floor. Adding some more pressure toward the left, 25 House Blue Dogs have said they will support the public option, making the conference a tougher environment for foes of the public option.
Whether the big fight is in the first Senate bill or the conference, the key, obviously, is that Obama doesn’t want to use the messy reconciliation tool unless he absolutely must, so he needs to get all the Democrats to commit to cloture even if they vote against the final bill (the have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too option), which means listening with saintlike patience to all their concerns – or he might pick off a few Republicans but it seems unlikely. Even if Obama is unsure of getting cloture, he might risk a filibuster rather than approve a crappy bill with no public option: even if he misses cloture by a few votes, the Republicans will get the blame for blocking something that everyone wants. Perhaps a filibuster and THEN reconciliation.
Behind the scenes the White House staff, the cabinet secretaries, Obama and Biden are lobbying Senators furiously, not so much lobbying them as carpetbombing them with attention. Susan Collins is a key target. Again and again they are asking the centrists: what could you vote for? They are acting as “vote whip” because Reid doesn’t have the balls or the brains.
There are those who suggest that by leaving his position ambiguous for so long, Obama showed America that he is being flexible and making concessions, and the Republicans are not, thus ensuring that the Republicans get the blame for any defeat. But leaving it up in the air so long has its risks. Perhaps Obama sees that, which would explain his jumping into the process during the Finance-HELP merge rather than in conference.