As debate on the reconciliation "fix" bill winds down and Senate Democrats have been unifying around a strategy of defeating all amendments (including a public option amendment, which is why we won't see it offered) so that the bill remains intact, I've been wondering whether that strategy could or should change if a Republican amendment were somehow adopted despite the plan.
The adoption of any amendment anywhere along the line would make the question of whether or not the reconciliation bill would have to go back to the House moot. Any change would send the bill back to the House. So if the bill were amended at any point, it would basically be costless to attempt to send the bill back to the House with a public option attached.
But it now occurs to me that the points of order the Republicans are threatening might not be handled until the end of debate on the bill and any amendments, so it may well be the case that Democrats are able to prevail against all amendments and keep the bill intact until that point, and only after the opportunity for amendments to be offered had expired would any of the changes that points of order could force actually be made. So it could be that supporters of the public option in the Senate would feel constrained from offering it until it was too late. The "costless" opportunity to add it by amendment might arise only after amendment time had come and gone.
But if the bill does have to be amended due to Republican points of order, that just creates an opportunity for public option supporters in the House. Yes, the path of least resistance at that point would be for the House to concur in the Senate's changes and pass the reconciliation bill without further amendment. But if the House is going to have to take another vote on the bill, it might as well extract some price for it.
That probably means that public option supporters need to be talking to the House as well, and that the House may be the front line for offering such an amendment, with the Senate only asked to concur in it if the House is the one to include it. Supporters should be thinking about that possibility, lining up sponsors and backers in the House, and letting Senators know that if that were to happen and the bill were to return to the Senate with a public option attached by the House, that'd have to be considered as having the public option "come up for a vote," and those letters they signed would either have to be honored or repudiated on that question. If the count of Senators who've said they'd support the public option "if it came up" are solid, then House Members would have reason to believe the provision could survive -- at least politically -- in the Senate.
I can't predict for you the likelihood that a proposal to add the public option in the House would be well-received at this point, if only because it means more work at a time when things looked to have been completed. But enthusiasm is running at elevated levels after the high-energy signing event at the White House. And if those are the dynamics of the situation, then let us plan accordingly.
The fact is that the leadership is likely not particularly charged about the idea of having to deal with the bill any longer than they have to. Adding a public option, they might feel, will only make that task more difficult.
But I'll also offer this up from a different angle that holds the door open and offers some "win" for the very fatigued leadership as well.
If there's a credible threat of offering a public option plan that can survive the Byrd Rule and get a majority in both houses, then at a minimum the public option ought to be held out as a threat. If the reconciliation bill survives the amending process intact, but is under threat from Republican points of order, a leadership armed with a survivable public option threat can warn that if the bill is changed by a Republican point of order, that ruling will be honored, but the bill will come back with that provision out and the public option in.
If Democrats can demonstrate their willingness to adopt a public option amendment in both houses and to bet on its Byrd Rule worthiness -- and they were willing to make its inclusion the penalty for Republican points of order being levied against the bill as currently written -- we might get through the Byrd Rule challenges a little quicker than we might otherwise, as Republicans opt to drop their points of order rather than face losing on the public option, to boot.
But that only works if the leadership is willing to make a credible threat on the public option. And of course, that depends on whether or not they believe it would survive the Byrd Rule.
If not, there might perhaps be some other issue about which they'd be more certain that they could use to create the same leverage. Medicare buy-in? Medicaid expansion? Some other provision that puts a silver lining on having to deal with losing on Republican points of order?
I understand the desire to get the bill finished unchanged. But if the decision is taken out of Democratic hands, they can opt to do something with the situation, or not.
Or, they can make the decision to aggressively pursue points of order more difficult (or at least more weighty) for Republicans, by laying out what the "punishment" for striking provisions of the bill is. And if it's a public option amendment, or Medicare buy-in, then the deal gets offered: drop your points of order, let the bill pass, and go on your way, or else this thing gets finished with one or more of the listed additions of the Democrats' choosing.