Return of the public option?

Some House Democrats are trying to revive the contentious public option, this time as a deficit fix. Could they succeed?

Public option
(Image credit: Corbis)

A public, government-run health insurance option — high on liberals' wish lists — did not make it into the final health care reform law. But that doesn't mean it's dead. A group of 128 House Democrats are recasting the public option as a deficit-slashing measure, armed with a new Congressional Budget Office analysis showing it could save the federal government $68 billion between 2014 and 2020. But is re-litigating one of the most contentious parts of an already contentious law a good idea right before midterm elections? (Watch a Fox report about the public option's revival)

This puts conservatives in a tough spot: Congressional "deficit hawks" are always telling us that getting our fiscal house in order will entail "some choice they don't want to make," says Steve Benen in Washington Monthly. Well, here's $68 billion on the table, with a measure they hate, even if "most of the country consistently loved" it. So conservatives, which will it be: ideology or pragmatism?

"Remember the public option?"

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Deficit reducer? Please: This $68 billion in "savings" is nothing but "smoke and mirrors," says Bruce McQuain in Questions and Observations. Medicare and Medicaid are supposed to be cost-effective, too — except it's politically untenable to make them so. "There is no stomach (or spine) to cut doctor's pay in the Congress and they risk all sorts of problems if they cut pay to hospitals." This is going nowhere.

"Dumb idea of the day—Reintroduce the public option to lower deficit"

This isn't a serious effort, but it'll come: This "game of pick-which-is-worse," deficits or government-run health care, is "mostly just petty political gamesmanship" and a way to "needle Republicans," says Peter Suderman in Reason. But especially if the GOP continues to dodge offering its own serious fiscal solutions, "the public option fight is destined to be a long one."

"Public Option II: Public optioner?"

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