Two late-breaking stories breathe significant life back into healthcare reform and potentially a public option being included in that reform.
The first from Herszenhorn and Pear in the NYT says that the plan Democrats will present next week at the summit will be designed to pass as part of a reconciliation package.
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....
During a conference call on Wednesday night, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, told the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, and the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, that she could not agree to a proposal until rank-and-file lawmakers returned from a weeklong recess. A House Democratic caucus meeting is set for Monday evening.
And a senior Senate Democratic aide expressed doubts.
"It has been three weeks since the Massachusetts election, and we have not received a path forward from the White House on health care substance and process that can clear the House and Senate," the aide said....
The president’s plan would require most Americans to obtain health insurance or face financial penalties; it would bar insurers from denying coverage based on pre-existing medical conditions, and it would give tax subsidies to help moderate-income people buy private insurance.
Officials said the president’s bill was expected to include a version of the Senate’s proposed tax on high-cost, employer-sponsored insurance policies. It would reflect a deal reached with labor union leaders to limit the impact of the tax on workers.
More recently, some labor officials have expressed dissatisfaction with that deal, and many House Democrats remain opposed to the excise tax.
The inclusion of the excise tax remains a thorny issue, as labor has backed away from the agreement negotiated prior to the Massachusetts election. Add to that a new analysis from UC Berkeley that suggests that the vast majority of employees that will be subject to the excise tax are in non-union households, and more members will be likely to oppose that revenue measure. It's still a major hurdle in the House, which the White House is well aware of. Which brings up one possible motive for the reconciliation threat--like the threat of recess appointments broke opposition and allowed some nominations to go forward, this could be aimed at shaking loose a few Republicans to support a potentially scaled-down package. That seems unlikely, both in intent and outcome, as there's only one Republican who has even come close to pretending to cooperate with Dems, and one ain't enough.
The second major development was diaried last night by nandssmith: Sebelius, appearing on the Rachel Maddow show, said the White House would support a public option if Harry Reid moved it forward.
Maddow: "The private insurance company writ large hasn't done a great job. That's why we want a public option to compete with them. These 18 Democratic senators want to bring that back into the fold. If that happened, would the administration fight for it?"
Sebelius: "Well, I think if it's...Certainly. If it's part of the decision of the Senate leadership to move forward, absolutely."
The hot potato game between Reid and the White House over the public option continues, but now that Reid has the blessing of the White House, it would make a great deal of sense for him to include it. It has the support of one person on his leadership team--Chuck Schumer. It would help bring the House on board to this new WH approved reconciliation effort. The public option is very popular in Nevada. There are all sorts of reasons to include it, including that fact that it's smart policy that will significantly help to lower costs to the system. But there's still some resistance in the Senate caucus. Jon Cohn:
At this point, it's going to take a herculean effort by President Obama and the leadership to secure fifty votes even for a modest reconciliation bill, one that merely fixes some of the more egregious flaws in the bill the Senate finally passed. Adding a public option--something more conservative Democrats never liked in the first place--will make that task a lot harder. Here's how one Senate leadership aide put it to me on Thursday, following the news about Schumer:
Despite the flurry of press reports, nothing has changed over the last couple of days, except that maybe there are less votes for the public option that there were a few months ago.
That's where we come in. Reconciliation as an option is gaining in momentum, with even Evan Bayh being open to using it. Reconciliation is far more likely to happen now that the White House is behind it than it was a week ago, but it still needs to be pushed. The inclusion of the public option is going to take serious citizen whipping. Thirty-two more Dem Senators need to step up.