Passing Public Option Via Reconciliation Gathers Steam

The effort to bring the public option up for a vote continues to gather steam in the wake of the Bennet Letter written by Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado - and orginally co-signed by Senator Kristen Gillibrand of New York, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon - to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid urging him to use the reconciliation process. Eighteen Democratic Senators have now signed the letter. Those who have signed on are Senator Barbara Boxer of California, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, Senator Al Franken of Minnesota, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Senator Pat Leahy of Vermont, Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico, Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, Senator Roland Burris of Illinois and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York.

The other development overnight is a bit of a mixed bag. Appearing on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow show last night, Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said that the White House is willing to make a push for the public option if Senate Democrats decide to bring it up for a vote. 

"Certainly. If it's part of the decision of the Senate leadership to move forward, absolutely," she told Rachel Maddow.

While welcomed, it is not exactly the strongest display of leadership. This I will if you will is passing the buck to Harry Reid when it should be the President that leads. Still, it perhaps merits taking a wait and see approach. The New York Times reports this morning that the Administration will put forward comprehensive health care legislation intended to bridge differences between Senate and House Democrats ahead of a summit meeting with Republicans next week.

Democratic officials said the president’s proposal was being written so that it could be attached to a budget bill as a way of averting a Republican filibuster in the Senate. The procedure, known as budget reconciliation, would let Democrats advance the bill with a simple majority rather than a 60-vote supermajority.

Congressional Democrats, however, have not yet seen the proposal or signed on.

The House and the Senate each adopted a version of sweeping health care legislation late last year. But efforts to combine the measures stalled after a Republican, Scott Brown, won a special Senate election in Massachusetts on Jan. 19, effectively stripping the Democrats of the 60th vote they needed to overcome Republican filibusters.

“It will be a reconciliation bill,” one Democratic aide said. “If Republicans don’t come with any substantial offers, this is what we would do.”

Officials said that the White House would post the president’s plan on the Internet by Monday morning. But even as Mr. Obama tries to unite his party behind a single plan, it is unclear that Democrats can muster the needed votes in the House and the Senate given the tense political climate of a midterm election year.

Monday thus looms large. It may be a make or break day for the Administration and the progressive movement. Should the White House fail to show leadership on this, it may be time to take full stock of Administration that is long on rhetoric but short on delivery.

The Bennet Letter

Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado today stood up for the American people and wrote a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid urging him to bring the public insurance option back up for a vote and to pass it via the reconciliation process which requires only 51 votes. The Bennet letter was co-signed by Senator Kristen Gillibrand of New York, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon.

The four Senators, all Democrats, cite that they support a public option plan for four reasons: the cost savings the public option is estimated to achieve, continued public support for the public option, the need for increased competition in the insurance market and the Senate's history of using the reconciliation process for health care reform. The letter points out that the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Medicare Advantage, and the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA) were all enacted under reconciliation.

"Although we strongly support the important reforms made by the Senate-passed health reform package, including a strong public option would improve both its substance and the public’s perception of it," the letter stated. "The Senate has an obligation to reform our unworkable health insurance market — both to reduce costs and to give consumers more choices. A strong public option is the best way to deliver on both of these goals, and we urge its consideration under reconciliation rules."

"Put simply, including a strong public option is one of the best, most fiscally responsible ways to reform our health insurance system," the letter says. "Although we strongly support the important reforms made by the Senate-passed health reform package, including a strong public option would improve both its substance and the public’s perception of it."

More from Politico:

Bennet took the lead in the Senate to round up co-signers for the letter, which was spearheaded by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Democracy for America and Credo Action. A similar effort in the House netted 119 signers to a letter.

The senators have made the calculation that the public option is popular with Democrats, and the absence of one in the final bill is one reason that voters are unenthusiastic about it.

When the public option was still on the table, proponents in the Senate thought a majority of the Democratic caucus would vote it, making the inclusion of one in a bill passed through reconciliation a mathematical possibility.

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