Senate Finance Committee Rejects Public Option

The Senate Finance Committee, by a 15 to 8 vote, rejected an amendment proposed by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) to Committee Chairman Max Baucus’s (D-Mt.) health care bill that would have added a government-run, or “public,” health insurance option to the overhaul proposal.  Joining all ten of the committee’s Republicans in voting “no” were five Democrats, including Baucus himself, Bill Nelson (Fla.), Kent Conrad (N.D.), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), and Thomas Carper (Del.).  A second, and slightly less bad “public option” amendment, sponsored by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) was also rejected by a 13 to 10 vote, with Sens. Nelson and Carper switching sides.

As I’ve written previously, the public option is not the worst aspect of the various health reform proposals, the purchase mandate is.  Still, these votes should be viewed as a strong positive, signalling broad concern about the extent of the Democratic position.

Of course, Liberal Democrats are fuming.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Cal.) and House Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Cal.) remain committed to a public option.  President Obama signalled his enduring support for it in his September 9 address to Congress, despite White House back-tracking from the public option during the August congressional recess.  And, now, two left-wing advocacy groups, the Progressive Campaign Change Committee and Democracy for America, have launched a television ad campaign condemning Baucus for his decision to move forward without a government-run health insurance option for the non-elderly middle class.

This should serve as a warning to conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans (Yes. I mean you, Olympia Snowe (RINO-Me.).  You may spend months negotiating a compromise with your Senate colleagues.  But, please remember that all that will be torn asunder once a bill is reported out of committee and gets to be amended after debate by the entire Senate, and again when the final Senate compromise goes to conference and has to be reconciled with the House bill.  You may think you’re playing nice with your Senate Finance Committee colleagues and getting as good a deal as can be expected from that nice old Max Baucus.  But, trust me, Henry Waxman is ruthless.