White House hedges as public option momentum builds
WASHINGTON -- As supporters of the public option mount a comeback, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) signaled his willingness to pass it through reconciliation Friday.
"If a decision is made to use reconciliation to advance health care, Senator Reid will work with the White House, the House, and members of his caucus in an effort to craft a public option that can overcome procedural obstacles and secure enough votes," Reid's spokesman Rodell Mollineau told The Plum Line's Greg Sargent.
"Senator Reid has always and continues to support the public option as a way to drive down costs and create competition. That is why he included the measure in his original health care proposal."
During the week, more and more senators signed on to a letter authored by Sen. Michael Bennett (D-CO) calling for a vote on the public option through the budget reconciliation procedure, which would allow it to pass with a simple 51-vote majority. By Friday, 18 senators were on board.
Capitalizing on this widely noted momentum, the liberal advocacy group MoveOn.org on Friday sent an alert to members urging them to push Obama to back the provision.
"The public option was given up for dead, but in the last week, first a trickle, and now a flood of Democrats have been calling for it to be in the final 'reconciliation' bill," it reads, before emphasizing in bold, "It'll be a whole new ballgame for the public option if President Obama throws his weight behind it too."
But advocates ought not to get their hopes up, because Sargent also reported Friday that Obama's draft compromise legislation ahead of Thursday's bipartisan summit will have "no public option, aides say."
The White House doesn't necessarily oppose it, however. Obama's Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Thursday night that the White House might back using reconciliation to pass the public option.
"If it's part of the decision of the Senate leadership to move forward, absolutely," she said.
The provision, which was included in the approved House legislation, is one of the most popular health reform components among voters. It was pronounced dead in December after Reid determined it didn't have the votes in the upper chamber.
The same month, a CBS News poll found that six in ten Americans support the provision -- a notably larger number than support the whole package.
Even without it, the whole process fell in limbo after last month's election of Scott Brown to the senate, which gave Republicans the votes they needed to filibuster the final motion. Now, Obama and Democrats are working to push it past the finish line in some form.
With or without the public option, Republicans are unlikely to cast even a single vote for the bill, leaving reconciliation as the most likely opportunity to push it through. Well over 51 Senate Democrats support it, but not all have stated whether they'll back its passage through reconciliation.