Public Option Puts Obamacare In Critical Condition

Brian Darling /

According to CBS and other media reports, “Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) said Tuesday that he would support a Republican filibuster of a health care bill that includes a public option.” This is a serious blow to the passage of any Obamacare bill including a public option, yet the blow may not be fatal.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) yesterday announced a deal and it is notable that he was not accompanied by any member of the secret team negotiating a deal on Obamacare including Senators Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Director of the Office of Management and Budget Peter Orszag and Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.

The fact that none of the other negotiators were there for the big rollout of Obamacare is evidence that there was not strong agreement on the details of the bill Reid allegedly sent to the Congressional Budget Office for a cost estimate. This deal is on life support and does not yet have broad based support. If Senator Reid insists on retaining the public option in the Obamacare bill to placate the far left, he may doom passage of the bill.

The procedure being used to pass Obamacare does provide Senator Reid with some wiggle room to pass the bill, even with a public option. First of all, because the details of the deal are still secret, Reid retains the discretion to remove any provision from the bill before he decides to roll it out on the Senate Floor as early as next week. Reid’s announced deal is a version of the public option with states being allowed to “opt out.” As discussed on The Foundry today, “whether it is first implemented through a co-op, or a trigger, or an opt out, the end goal is the same: government-run health care for all Americans.” It will be very hard to opt out for states and this may become de facto public plan for most states and this permutation of the public option seems to be objectionable to Senator Lieberman.

Next, it is important to remember that once Senator Reid rolls an Obamacare bill on the Senate floor, there will be amendments offered to tweak the bill to get support at 60 votes for a package. Reid needs 60 votes to shut off debate or opponents of Obamacare could use a filibuster to defeat and debate the bill to failure. If Senator Lieberman or another moderate is pledging opposition to the bill, Senator Reid could try to use the amendment process to buy votes for a final plan. Also, Reid could use the amendment process to remove objectionable aspects of a public plan, or the public plan as a whole, to garner the support of just enough Senators to shut off debate.

CBS quotes Lieberman with some wiggle room for support for the bill with a public option even thought he clearly stated that “if the bill remains what it is now, I will not be able to support a cloture motion before final passage.” Lieberman said, “I haven’t decided and can’t decide [on cloture] until I’ve actually seen the physical bill, and I’m not going to be able to see that until it comes back from CBO having been scored. I’m looking for what the costing is on certain areas, and I’ll make up my mind on the basis of that, I’m not establishing a line in the sand or a number.” It seems that if Senator Reid either removes the public option from the bill or modifies it so as to remove the costly aspects of the plan, he may secure enough votes to pass Obamacare with out a full blown public option.

The cost aspect of other aspects of an Obamacare bill might be objectionable to Lieberman or one of the other 12 Senators that caucus with the Democrats who opposed debating the $247 billion Doc Fix bill including Democrat Senators Evan Bayh of Indiana, Robert Byrd of West Virginia, Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Bill Nelson of Florida, Jon Tester of Montana, Mark Warner and Jim Webb of Virgina and Ron Wyden of Oregon. That bill failed on a filibuster and Obamacare may be doomed to die on a filibuster if Senator Ried submits a bill with a public option. Senator Harry Reid will attempt over the next week to find a cure for Obamacare and the removal of the public option may be the only medicine that will work.