Democrats’ House-Senate Public Option Impasse Could Kill Healthcare Reform

Their Senate-House stalemate could sink the healthcare reform bill.

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By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

It's too soon to tell but September 29, 2009, just may be the day that healthcare reform died.

On a bi-partisan basis the Senate Finance Committee rejected Tuesday two amendments, one by West Virginia Democratic Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, and a more modest proposal by Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, to add the so-called "public option" to the healthcare reform legislation currently being written.

Congressional cynics are already describing the votes as "fig leaves," intended to give vulnerable Democrats a "No" vote on the unpopular public option they can point to during their re-election campaigns. And they further predict that, regardless of whatever the Finance Committee produces, the legislation the Senate will finally vote on will either include some type of public option or will lay the groundwork for one in the future.

Taking the members of the committee at their word, or at least at their votes, means the public campaign against public option has had the desired effect—as least as far as the Senate is concerned—setting up a direct conflict with the House of Representatives.

Back even before the August recess began the pressure to drop the public option got so strong that its strongest supporters—more that 60 members of the House Democratic Caucus—signaled to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that they would not vote in favor of any healthcare reform package that did not include it. Meanwhile, a smaller group of Democrats in the House seem to be saying they won't vote for any healthcare reform that includes public option.

It's not at all clear that the Democrats opposed to public option can muster enough votes, along with the Republicans, to bring down the bill. The Democrats who support public option, by withholding their votes from any plan that in their eyes doesn't go far enough, can.

With the House unable to pass anything without public option and the Senate looking like it can't pass anything with it, the Democrats and President Obama seem to be headed to a point where they are frozen in place, staring at each other like Dr. Seuss' north- and south-going Zax, with neither willing to move aside so the other can proceed.

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