Is Harry Reid Planning a Public Option Bait-and-Switch on Healthcare?

The American people may be the only ones who can stop it and save healthcare.

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By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Last week, members of the Senate Finance Committee voted down two attempts to add a public option to the healthcare bill they were writing. That, in turn, set up a scenario for healthcare gridlock: the Senate unable to pass a bill that included a public option and the House unwilling to pass a bill without it.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, may have come up with a way to thread that needle.

Recognizing that there are not 60 Senate votes for a public option—but that there are almost surely more than 50—writes Susan Ferrechio today in the Washington Examiner, Reid may be planning to move the bill forward without it as a way to secure the 60 votes needed to shut off Republican efforts to filibuster and begin the debate.

Once the bill was on the floor, Reid would then pull a "bait and switch" by offering a public option as an amendment on the Senate floor. Senate experts point out that Reid would still need 60 votes to block attempts to filibuster the amendment—and that a filibuster could still be used to prevent a modified bill that includes a public option from getting a vote on final passage—but getting the bill to the floor changes the nature of the battle. It moves it out of the policy arena and makes it an exercise in raw political power.

Reid, House Republican Study Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Price said today, should be taken at his word that he will push forward with a public option and that he remains committed to passing a bill that includes it out of the Senate.

And that would be a bad deal for the American people because a public option "will destroy quality healthcare in the United States," says Price, a medical doctor before coming to Congress.

Price, a Georgia Republican, admits the GOP doesn't have the votes to stop the legislation, especially if a Senate-passed public-option-included plan is sent to the House, where the Democrats will likely adopt it immediately in lieu of their own bill, cutting off the need for a conference committee and opening up a pathway straight to the president's desk.

"The people who have the votes" to stop the public option plan, Price says, "are the American people." But the tide may be shifting. According to the latest Rasmussen polling data, 46 percent of the American electorate now favors the healthcare reform plan proposed by President Obama and congressional Democrats, an increase of five points from just one week ago.

As Rasmussen points out, "With the exception of 'bounces' following a couple of nationally televised presidential appearances, this is the first time support for the congressional healthcare effort has risen." The poll shows 78 percent of Democrats favoring the plan, with 80 percent of Republicans opposed. Among independents, 39 percent favor the plan, 55 percent oppose it.

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