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Polis, Pingree Push Letter To Save Public Option Through Reconciliation

Democrats remain stalemated on how to pass the health care bill, which Senate centrists in particular reluctant to use the sidecar reconciliation approach to cement the deals between the chambers that were being decided before Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts. But last night at a House caucus meeting, two Democrats pushed the public option back onto the agenda, circulating a letter calling on the Senate to include that in any sidecar.

Two House freshmen, Reps. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.), circulated a letter, looking for signatures, that will be delivered to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Thursday on behalf of the plan, Polis told HuffPost.

Reid is not generally receptive to advice from the lower chamber, but health care reform has stumbled into territory where there is no map.

If Reid and President Obama decide that the House Democrats have a workable plan — perhaps the only viable plan left, after the New York Times declared that the brakes had been slammed — they may be able to accomplish it.

Pingree told HuffPost that the pair’s proposal was met with excitement from some quarters and skepticism from others. “There are plenty of people who say there’s no way we’re going to bring it back, but there’s nothing predictable about this political year,” she said. “Never say never.”

You can find the letter here. In it, Pingree and Polis argue that the public option has majority support in the Senate, has the popular support of the public and can bring people back onto the bill, and would bring the kind of savings necessary to make room for more affordability credits and a higher threshold for the excise tax.

All of this is true. And if 50 votes are all that is necessary for sidecar legislation, there’s no reason why the public option cannot be used in a reconciliation process. But Ryan Grim alludes to the real problem with the sidecar approach:

They argued that the current bill before the House, which passed the Senate, lacks the votes needed to pass because pro-life Democrats don’t believe the abortion restrictions go far enough and progressive Democrats don’t like the lack of a public option, the weak affordability measures or the tax on private insurance. And nobody likes the Cornhusker Kickback, a provision won by Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson that would cover the state’s Medicaid bills in perpetuity. Not even Nelson likes it anymore.

So, in order to move health care through the House, Democrats either need to pick up progressives or conservatives. And the budget reconciliation process does not lend itself to altering abortion language reform, because that wouldn’t have a direct, substantial impact on the budget.

But Grim’s math is wrong. If Stupak Dems break from the bill, there’s a gap of votes that progressives cannot fill. You would need 8-10 people who did not vote for the bill the first time in order for passage. Nobody has yet explained how to crack that nut, including Polis and Pingree.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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