Thursday, February 18, 2010

It's Baa--aack

I think this is the first time I've ever read anything by Ezra Klein (and you know I'm a big fan) in which he sounds almost confused. The occasion?  The latest comeback of the public option, in the form of a letter asking for it to be part of the reconciliation package signed by, at last count, 18 Senators.  Well, confused is an exaggeration; maybe exasperated?
One way or another, however, Senate Democrats and the White House need to choose their path and communicate it clearly. If Democrats want to use the public option to reinvigorate their base and attack the insurers and push this bill over the finish line in a final blaze of populist fury, more power to them. If they decide that the process is fragile and Americans want bipartisanship and this is a bad time to introduce uncertainty into chaos, that makes sense, too.
My guess is that all of this is both more and less than it seems.   On the one hand, it seems awfully unlikely that they'll get as many as forty Senators on board for this.  The total number of Senators willing to vote for a public option was always right around fifty, and of course it's one fewer now that Scott Brown is a Senator.  I'm pretty sure the number who actively want a public option, in the sense of being willing to ask for it, is not much more than forty.  So I think this gives liberals another chance to show the flag before moving (perhaps?) to final passage.  If I had to guess, I'd say that they won't get thirty-five names, and the whole thing fizzles as a story before the summit.

However: if the proponents play this correctly, it becomes the opening shot of the battle to pass the public option through reconciliation next year, or, barring that, in 2013 -- assuming, that is that Democrats retain their majorities and the main bill passes this year.  While it's possible that, handled wrong, yet another failure of the public option could (further) demoralize liberals, I think it's more likely that the combination of passing the bill and the promise of a new campaign for the public option in the future will make liberals feel, if not excited, at least a little happier about supporting Dems this fall.

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