Feature

The public option’s Senate defeat

The Senate Finance Committee nixed a government-run health-insurance option—is the 'public option' dead?

In the Senate Finance Committee health-care fight, “Round 1 went to the public-option opponents,” said Derek Thompson in The Atlantic. Three Democrats joined all 10 Republicans in voting down two amendments that would have added a public option to Sen. Max Baucus’ overhaul bill. “But there are more rounds in this bout,” and to paraphrase Billy Crystal in The Princess Bride, “the plan is only mostly dead, not all dead.”

Sure, it’s possible that the public option will make it into the final bill, “but unlikely,” said Timothy Noah in Slate. And that’s kind of “baffling.” The senators aren’t “bowing to popular passions”—more Americans believe in UFOs (34 percent) than oppose the public option (26 percent), and even 63 percent of doctors back it. It's the health-insurance industry that hates the public option, because it doesn’t want the competition.

Health insurers have a much more “meager” average profit margin than, say, lawyers, said Ed Morrissey in Hot Air, but you don’t hear Democrats acting eager to “tackle tort reform.” Still, while the Finance Committee votes are “a victory for Baucus,” who wants a bill that will pass with Republican votes, it won’t be the last attempt to slip in a public option—the best chance is in House-Senate conference negotiations.

No bill that includes a public option will get 60 Senate votes, said Carrie Budoff Brown in Politico. But two previously noncommittal Democrats voted for the second public-option amendment, so it easily has 51 votes. The Finance Committee markup was a blow to the public option, but “the one person who will effectively decide its fate”—President Obama, the “final arbiter” of a 51- or 60-vote bill—“wasn’t even in the room.”

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