Today, the Senate Finance Committee voted on two amendments from Senators Schumer and Rockefeller to add a public health insurance option to the Baucus Bill. Both of those amendments were defeated, 8-15 and 10-13 respectively.

In a long debate on the amendments, Senators spoke out vigorously in favor of the idea. Rockefeller exhorted his colleagues to consider the people of this country as they vote. Schumer asked why the insurance industry was afraid of a little competition. Cantwell, Menendez, Bingaman, Kerry, Bill Nelson, and Stabenow all made their cases and pushed back hard on the misinformation coming from the opposition. The intellectual and moral case for the public health insurance option was clear. And there were some pleasant surprises as Senator Wyden voted for both amendments, and Senators Bill Nelson and Carper voted for the Schumer amendment.

On the Rockefeller amendment, which would have created a public health insurance option based on Medicare, the roll call was:

Democrats

Max Baucus, MT – No
John D. Rockefeller IV, WV – Aye
Kent Conrad, ND – No
Jeff Bingaman, NM – Aye
John Kerry, MA – Aye
Blanche Lincoln, AR – No
Ron Wyden, OR – Aye
Charles Schumer, NY – Aye
Debbie Stabenow, MI – Aye
Maria Cantwell, WA – Aye
Bill Nelson, FL – No
Robert Menendez, NJ – Aye
Thomas Carper, DE – No

Republicans

Chuck Grassley, IA – No
Orrin Hatch, UT – No
Olympia Snowe, ME – No
Jon Kyl, AZ – No
Jim Bunning, KY – No
Mike Crapo, ID – No
Pat Roberts, KS – No
John Ensign, NV – No
Mike Enzi, WY – No
John Cornyn, TX – No

On the Schumer amendment, which would have created a "level playing field" public health insurance option, the roll call has:

Democrats

Max Baucus, MT – No
John D. Rockefeller IV, WV – Aye
Kent Conrad, ND – No
Jeff Bingaman, NM – Aye
John Kerry, MA – Aye
Blanche Lincoln, AR – No
Ron Wyden, OR – Aye
Charles Schumer, NY – Aye
Debbie Stabenow, MI – Aye
Maria Cantwell, WA – Aye
Bill Nelson, FL – Aye
Robert Menendez, NJ – Aye
Thomas Carper, DE – Aye

Republicans

Chuck Grassley, IA – No
Orrin Hatch, UT – No
Olympia Snowe, ME – No
Jon Kyl, AZ – No
Jim Bunning, KY – No
Mike Crapo, ID – No
Pat Roberts, KS – No
John Ensign, NV – No
Mike Enzi, WY – No
John Cornyn, TX – No

In the most conservative committee in the Senate, which is itself the most conservative house of Congress, a public health insurance option got the support of an overwhelming majority of the governing party. And as such, it sets the stage for the next step.

As has been reiterated over and over on this blog, the public health insurance option saves money and lowers costs, it’s the only way to hold insurance companies accountable, and it is overwhelmingly popular – both in Congress, where four out of five committees have already passed a public health insurance option, and with the American people, 77% of whom support the idea. The next time the public health insurance option will come up for consideration is when Harry Reid merges the Finance bill with the HELP bill. The above facts should be kept in mind during that process.

Today was the first step in building momentum for a public health insurance option in the Senate. Clearly, the idea has weight – even self-described moderates such as Bill Nelson and Tom Carper voted for it. As we move to the floor and into conference, with Schumer, Rockefeller, and other champions pledging support a whipping their colleagues, those numbers can and will continue to grow. I believe, like Schumer does, that a public health insurance option will be in the bill President Obama signs into law. It’ll take work, and it won’t be pretty, but it can and will happen.

Chris Bowers has an update to our Senate whip count proving we have 51 votes in the Senate for a public health insurance option. Senator Harkin concurs. As today made clear, there will be surprises as this debate commences. Senators Wyden, Carper, and Nelson (FL) made clear that they support a public health insurance option, something that we didn’t know beforehand. Who knows what other surprises await us as the push continues.

Today was the first step. Today, Senators voted for the first time on the sole question of the public health insurance option, and a huge majority of Democrats supported it. There is no question that this was a big day for health reform, and it will shape the ground going forward.

(also posted at the NOW! blog)

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