Feature

Harry Reid’s public option gamble

Why is the Senate majority leader staking his career on a polarizing “opt-out” health care public option?

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid threw his weight behind the beleaguered “public option,” announcing that the final Senate health-care reform bill will include a government-run insurance plan that lets states opt out. Alienated moderates and incensed Republicans doubt Reid has the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster. So why is the Nevada Democrat, who’s facing an uphill battle for reelection in 2010, taking the risk? (Watch Sen. Harry Reid's public option announcement)

Reid’s betting this will get conservative Democrats in line: With this move, says Marc Ambinder in The Atlantic, Reid squanders the support of Sen. Olympia Snowe, the one Republican willing to vote for health-care reform. The “onus” now shifts to non-liberal Democrats: Reid is daring them to join Republicans in “openly filibustering health reform” and he’s wagering that public support and pressure will keep them from defecting.“Reid’s Roll of the Dice”

He’s trying to save his job: Reid doesn’t have the 60 votes, but that’s not the point, says Dana Milbank in The Washington Post. This has “less to do with health-care policy than with Nevada politics”—specifically Reid’s troubled re-election bid next year. He can’t win without big liberal turnout. If this passes, he “keeps his hero status”; if not, he still gets credit for trying.“Harry Reid, shopping for reelection insurance”

Reid’s gambit is a “negotiating strategy”: If he can’t get the votes to push the opt-out option through, says Katie Connolly in Newsweek, he can swap it out for the “trigger model” favored by Snowe—which is a “more palatable shift for liberals than starting from a trigger and moving to no public option at all.” “Reid’s Public Option: Not Exactly A Shoo-in”

Reid has just lost in 2010: If he tries to “ram this bill through the Senate,” it will only solidify his position as “one of the most endangered incumbents,” says National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brian Walsh, as quoted in The Hill. Reid’s behind-closed-doors decision to give in to “the far left” on the public option is just one more sign that he’s an extremist.“NRSC: Reid is a ‘partisan bully’”

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