Most Democrats say they support a public option, but we probably won't know for sure as they're unlikely to cast a vote on it.
The last hope for an up-or-down vote on the provision in the current bill faded on Friday, when one of its most outspoken backers scrapped his plans to force a motion on it.
Under the procedure Democrats are now considering, they need 51 votes to approve it. At least 51 senators have suggested they support the provision, according to unofficial whip counts conducted by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and the liberal Firedoglake.
Last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) told The Plum Line's Greg Sargent he'd "certainly be prepared to" introduce it in an amendment, demanding that senators codify their stances.
But the senator has since backed off, having "concluded that offering a public option amendment now could undermine the entire process," his spokesman told the Burlington Free Press.
The provision, which would provide consumers the choice of buying into a government-run insurance plan, has consistently polled well among the general public and is overwhelmingly favored by progressives. Due in part to opposition from conservative Democrats, however, it has been subject to intense quarrels within the party and was ultimately jettisoned from the Senate bill.
The House of Representatives approved the public option in its November bill, a month before Senate Democrats concluded they did not have 60 votes for cloture. President Obama, who has said he supports it, excluded it from his first-ever reform proposal, released just weeks ago.
Putting an end to growing speculation that the provision may be reinserted, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced its death last Friday, declaring that it's "not in reconciliation."
"This is what the Democratic Party does; it's who they are," said Salon's Glenn Greenwald, surmising that party leaders are too afraid to take on insurance companies. "They're willing to feign support for anything their voters want just as long as there's no chance that they can pass it."
The public plan is so important to progressive activists that a number of them, such as Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake, have campaigned to scuttle the current bill and reprimand Democrats who vote for a package without it.
"This is an incredibly disappointing moment," wrote Hamsher on her blog. "I just wish our representatives would have the decency not to lie to their supporters about what they will do, and not make promises they quickly break."