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The Difference Between Really Trying and Pretending to Try: Will Reid Do All Possible to Preserve Public Option?

Gerald F. Seib at the Wall Street Journal wrote,

How? Mr. Lieberman says he has made his position absolutely clear to Mr. Reid. And Mr. Reid, all agree, is a wily tactician. So does he think Mr. Lieberman, and the two or three conservative Democrats who share his inclination, will give in at the end? Or is there some artful compromise that can be seen as including and not including a public option at the same time?

Here’s another possibility: Maybe Mr. Reid plans to push as far as he can with a bill including a public option, to show his party he has done all humanly possible, before yanking the public option just before the whole effort goes off a cliff. We’ve proven that a bill is possible, he might say then, but also that a public option isn’t.

I think Mr. Seib may be right. It is definitely within the realm that Reid will try to act like he did everything “humanly possible.” The problem is that it will not work and his party’s base will not buy it.

Putting a public option in the bill, only to drop it the first time Lieberman throws a hissy fit on the Senate floor, is not everything humanly possible. It is barely any effort at all. Harry Reid as Senate Majority leader has tools at his disposal to get the public option if he really wants to pull out all the stops.

The easiest solution is horse trading and mild threats. Reid can try to bribe the reluctant members of his caucus with some home town pork. Failing that, he could try threatening them with killing their pet projects, or even taking away their chairmanships.

And, failing that, Reid can always resort to using reconciliation to pass a bill with only a simple majority. He can try to pass the whole bill using reconciliation, or just some parts, like the public option. Reid probably would not even need to use reconciliation. The mere threat that he would use a procedure that would completely strip the conservative Democratic hold outs of all their leverage would probably convince them to relent.

If reconciliation is unworkable, Reid can still play super hardball by threatening to use the “nuclear option” to completely bypass a filibuster. Three years ago, Republican Senate Majority leader Bill Frist threatened to do the same thing. Then, the mere threat of possibly losing their filibuster power convinced reluctant senators to give in.

These are just some of the options available to Reid. If he fails to use all these tools, he will not even come close to doing everything humanly possible. If Reid really wants a public option he can get one. Right now, the plan B buzz seems to be courting Snowe with a worthless trigger instead of going for reconciliation. That is definitely not how you actually try to get the public option.

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Jon Walker

Jon Walker

Jonathan Walker grew up in New Jersey. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2006. He is an expert on politics, health care and drug policy. He is also the author of After Legalization and Cobalt Slave, and a Futurist writer at http://pendinghorizon.com

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