I'm following up on another terrific post by Jonathan Cohn, who argues plausibly that public option fever is responsible for lots of the (other) things liberals like surviving into the bill, at least so far. But I think that there's an even stronger case to be made that public option supporters are going to win their war, even while losing this battle.
In some ways, it would have been extraordinary if the public option had actually been enacted this year.
The public option, unlike most things that become law, is really new -- it basically dates from the 2008 election cycle (see this nice history). Compare that to something like the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, or the family & medical leave law enacted under Clinton, both of which had been fought over and tweaked over a number of Congresses. It's true that some things move to the top of the agenda more quickly, but it is rare for a measure responding to a chronic problem to emerge and get passed right away.
And I think the public option, despite losing out this time around, has a bright future, for better or worse. Here's the case for it...assuming that the current compromised bill actually does become law:
1. Liberals absolutely love it. Public option is going to be a litmus test for liberals in Congressional primaries in 2010, 2012, and probably as long as it isn't passed, including the 2016 presidential nomination if necessary. That's also true because:
2. It polls well, and liberals absolutely believe it polls well. Liberals, of course, love single-payer, too, but no one believes that's going to happen any time soon. The safest ground for candidates will be supporting the public option, and that's where Democratic candidates in all but the most conservative districts will wind up.
3. As a result, over time, more and more Democrats in Congress -- moderates as well as liberals -- are going to have campaign commitments to a public option. Not only that, public option will be much more front-and-center in future Democratic campaigns; while it certainly was a position Obama supported in 2008, it was not something he or many Congressional Democrats emphasized.
4. Public option fits in really well with the (soon to be) existing health care system structure. Of course, since the policy folks who designed the Obama bill did so with a public option in mind.
5. It can be done through reconciliation. As everyone has said, there would be all kinds of problems pushing the current bill through reconciliation, not the least of which is that Kent Conrad and a lot of marginal Democratic Senators didn't want to do it. The public option, alone, however, would pass through the obscure reconciliation rules. It even scores well.
Put it all together, and the odds of a near-future Democratic Congress creating a public option are very good indeed, as long as the big bill survives the next few weeks.
(just don't tell Joe Lieberman quite yet. shhh.).