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Daily Pulse: Finance Committee Rejects Public Options, But the Fight Continues

11:01 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium Blogger

Yesterday, the powerful Senate Finance Committee met to debate two amendments that would have inserted a public option into the committee’s health reform bill. Both amendments were defeated as key Democrats sided with Republicans and the insurance companies. David Corn of Mother Jones diagnoses what ails Senate Democrats. It’s split personality disorder: "They are the best friends of the health insurance industry. They are fiercest foes of the health insurance industry."

Sen. Jay Rockefeller’s (D-WV) strong public option amendment was defeated 15-8 because senators Max Baucus (D-MT), Kent Conrad (D-ND), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Bill Nelson (D-FL), and Tom Carper (D-DE) joined the committee’s ten Republicans. In the next round of voting, Nelson and Carper backed Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) amendment, but Baucus, Conrad and Lincoln stuck with the GOP and voted it down. Ironically, as Corn observes, the Senate Democratic communications team was busy emailing blistering indictments of the insurance industry while key members of the caucus were doing the insurers’ bidding.

John Nichols of The Nation worries that yesterday’s defeat is a sign that Congress is backing away from a public option, which was itself a compromise alternative to a single-payer, Medicare-for-all type system:

Tuesday’s day-long gathering of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, where chairman Max Baucus has spent months lowering expectations, offered a sense of just how dim prospects for meaningful systemic change have become.

Baucus, the insurance-industry representative who doubles as a Democratic senator from Montana, long ago rejected the notion that a robust public option might be a part of any healthcare reform measure that would pass the Senate.

The Senate Finance Committee went on to add tens of millions of dollars for discredited abstinence-only propaganda for teens, as Mike Lillis of the Washington Independent reports. Well, at least pseudoscience has a public option. If kids can learn this nonsense for free at school, maybe they’ll ditch church, where you have to put your money in the collection plate to hear the sermon.

Chris Bowers of AlterNet argues that a public option still has 51 votes in the Senate. Which means that the Democrats could still pass a healthcare bill by majority vote in the upper chamber, if they decided to forgo their quest for a filibuster-proof 60 and pass the bill through budget reconciliation.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), chair of the Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee, claims to have the votes to pass a plan with a public option, Lynda Waddington reports in the Iowa Independent. Harkin believes that the full Senate should have the opportunity to vote on the public option, considering that it’s part of four out of the five bills that have been approved so far.

The fight for a public option isn’t over yet. To date, all of the other health reform bills that are out of committee include a strong public option. The next step is putting these bills together to create the final legislation for the House and Senate to vote on.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care and is free to reprint. Visit Healthcare.newsladder.net for a complete list of articles on health care affordability, health care laws, and health care controversy. For the best progressive reporting on the Economy, and Immigration, check out Economy.Newsladder.net and Immigration.Newsladder.net. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and created by NewsLadder.

Daily Pulse: Uncharted Territory

8:57 pm in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium Blogger

The public option remains in limbo. The Senate Finance Committee is fine-tuning the bill it unveiled last week, which does not include a public option. However, Brian Beutler of TPM reports that Democrats have already submitted three separate amendments that might add a public option.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) submitted what he calls a "level playing field" amendment, which would, incongruously, create a public option that couldn’t set its own rates. A second amendment submitted by Schumer and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) would create a public option much like that outlined the HELP Committee bill. Finally, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) submitted an amendment that would create a robust public option, much like the one originally drafted in the House.

It’s pretty clear that no bill containing a public option in its first draft will get 60 votes in the senate. However, as Beutler reports in a second TPM piece, the Democrats are seriously revisiting the prospect of using budget reconciliation to get a health care bill through the senate with a simple majority. However, Beutler explains that Democrats are reluctant to go the reconciliation route because senate rules restrict the kind of bill that can be passed through reconciliation. For example, only provisions that "materially affect" spending can be passed through reconciliation. But what qualifies as a material effect?

Meanwhile, President Obama continues to insist that the public option isn’t dead yet, Steve Benen reports in the Washington Monthly.

In other news, women’s health remains a hot topic in health care reform. To understand why health care reform is especially critical for women, Public News Service interviewed Dr. Susan Wood, a scientist who famously resigned from the Bush-era Food and Drug Administration over the politicization of the approval of Plan B. Since leaving the government, Wood has returned to academia to study women’s health. Some of her key findings include:

About 20 percent of women under the age of 65 have no health care insurance; in some states, women are denied coverage if they have experienced domestic violence; and when women do have coverage, they are charged higher premiums and often see a long list of preexisting conditions that are excluded, with pregnancy sometimes on that list.

If there is a public option, will it cover abortion? Rep. Lois Capps has written an amendment addressing that question. She explains her proposal in her own words at RH Reality Check.

Uncertainty remains high as the senate inches towards a bill.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care and is free to reprint. Visit  Healthcare.newsladder.net for a complete list of articles on health care affordability, health care laws, and health care controversy. For the best progressive reporting on the Economy, and Immigration, check out Economy.Newsladder.net and Immigration.Newsladder.net. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and created by NewsLadder.

Daily Pulse: Women’s Health Beyond Pink Ribbons

8:54 pm in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium Blogger

While the Senate Finance Committee tinkers with the Baucus Bill, First Lady Michelle Obama is taking center stage in the health care reform debate. Obama’s director of communications announced last week that the FLOTUS would be focusing on the health care needs of women and children. Mindful of the conservative backlash against Hillary Clinton’s crusade for health care reform, Mrs. Obama is expected to steer clear of policy issues, according to Salon’s Judy Berman.

Tying health reform to women’s health is a smart political move. The far Right lured anti-choicers into a corporatist tax revolt with tall tales of tax-payer funded abortions. Now the White House is reminding Progressives that it cares, in a very general, non-policy kind of way, about women’s health. While Progressives will appreciate the White House shining a spotlight on reproductive health, it won’t mean much without policy specifics. It certainly won’t make up for the President Obama’s waffling on the public option.

The failure of the private insurance system has galvanized Dr. Willie Parker, an obstetrician/gynecologist active in Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health, as a passionate advocate for health care reform. In RH Reality Check, Dr. Parker tells how the status quo falls short on women’s health care:

I am not talking about withholding the latest, cutting-edge, exorbitantly priced medications or treatments. No—I’ve had patients whose health insurance doesn’t cover such basic health needs as Pap smears and birth control prescriptions. And forget about having a baby—many insurance policies don’t cover prenatal care or labor and delivery, or they treat pregnancy as a pre-existing condition.

In the Progressive, Mike Ervin reminds us that disability issues are also getting short shrift in the health care debate. Ervin takes aim at a Medicaid system that won’t help until a person is completely destitute. He suggests that a robust public option might be a lifeline before disability erases the savings of a lifetime.

This week, expect the wheeling and dealing on the Baucus Bill to continue behind the scenes as the Finance Committee marks up the legislation before the final committee vote. But with Sen Olympia Snowe’s (R-Maine) 60th vote in doubt, there are rumblings about reviving budget reconciliation as an option for passing a health bill in the senate with a simple majority.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care and is free to reprint. Visit  Healthcare.newsladder.net for a complete list of articles on health care affordability, health care laws, and health care controversy. For the best progressive reporting on the Economy, and Immigration, check out Economy.Newsladder.net and Immigration.Newsladder.net. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and created by NewsLadder.

Daily Pulse: Adele Stan Talks Teabaggers (Audio)

9:11 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium Blogger

Last Saturday, veteran right wing watcher Adele Stan of AlterNet covered the Tax Payers’ March on Washington (aka the 912 March or the DC Tea Party). About 70,000 conservative protesters converged on Washington to air their grievances, including opposition to President Obama’s health care reform agenda. Protesters carried signs warning of death panels, tax-funded abortions, and healthcare for "illegals."

In this interview, Stan explains that while the event was billed as a grassroots convergence, it was in fact orchestrated by Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks and the right wing Americans for Prosperity. The rally also received massive amounts of free publicity from Fox News host Glenn Beck, coordinator of the 9-12 project. Stan describes how all the abortion-, immigration- and death panel-talk binds social conservatives, nativists, and big business interests into a cohesive rightwing coalition.

Stan says that ,while the tea baggers have cropped up recently, the leaders of the movement have been at this game since LBJ trounced Barry Goldwater in 1964.

To learn more, check out Addie’s recent writing on the Tea Parties at AlterNet. The Wing Nut Code explains the significance of those creepy yellow snake flags and other right wing symbology; and The Same Old Faces explains how old guard Goldwater partisans are still pulling the strings for the right wing.

If the embedded audio player is not working for you, please listen to the interview here.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care and is free to reprint. Visit Healthcare.newsladder.net for a complete list of articles on health care affordability, health care laws, and health care controversy. For the best progressive reporting on the Economy, and Immigration, check out Economy.Newsladder.net and Immigration.Newsladder.net. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and created by NewsLadder.

Daily Pulse: Dissecting the Baucus Bill

12:08 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

Yesterday, a long and pathetic spectacle came to an end. Sen. Max Baucus
(D-Mont) released the first draft of the Senate Finance Committee’s health
care bill.

After months of fruitless negotiation in search of elusive bipartisanship,
Baucus delivered a bill with no Republican support. You’d scarcely know it
to read the bill. As Tim Fernholtz observes on TAPPED, the Baucus bill
looks like a retread of the href="http://healthcare.newsladder.net/submissions/click/1cC4MQZM?c=b">Republican
alternative to Clinton’s health care plan.

Sure enough, the Baucus bill is a boon to the insurance industry. The
government would force people to buy more of the same expensive, crappy
private insurance that necessitated reform in the first place. Instead of
driving down costs through competition with a public option, Baucus wants
the government subsidies to help people buy bad insurance they can’t
afford. That’s not the free market. In capitalism, if your product is too
expensive, people don’t buy it. Under Baucusism, the government forces you
to buy insurance and kicks in some money to help you afford it.

As expected, the bill contains no public option. Instead, the bill calls
for 50 state insurance co-ops to bargain for better rates—but the bill href="http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2009/09/the_baucus_bill_the_neutered_c.html">hobbles
the co-ops by restricting their enrollment and bargaining power. If
the goal is to drive down prices, you want the biggest possible co-op to
drive the hardest possible bargain. So, anything that keeps co-ops smaller
or restricts their ability to negotiate undermines the exercise. Which
proves once again that the Baucus and the Blue Dogs only care about
holding down costs when the money is coming out of the pockets of the big
business contributors.

Individuals must have insurance, but employers are href="http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gWA8Beqcol7QB_Gtm7Z8KubyNPEQD9AMV5EG0">under
no obligation to offer it. Companies would pay a fee if they did offer
insurance and workers and the workers ended up getting public subsidies
instead, but not the full cost of the subsidy. So, the taxpayers would be
subsidizing employers who won’t do right by their employees.

The Baucus bill throws down the gauntlet on organized labor by calling for
a 35% tax on high-quality health insurance plans. The tax could raise $200
billion, but as href="http://www.alternet.org/blogs/peek/142695/the_baucus_"big,_big_tax"_on_the_middle_class_?utm_source=feedblitz&utm_medium=FeedBlitzRss&utm_campaign=alternet">McJoan
explains at AlterNet, it’s a giant middle class tax hike that hits
union workers the hardest.

Luckily, nothing is set in stone. This is just the first draft of one of
the Senate bills. The Baucus bill will have to be combined with the much
more liberal bill passed by what was then Sen. Ted Kennedy’s (D-Mass)
Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee. Senate Majority Leader
Harry Reid is already signaling that the final bill will look very
different by the time the full senate is called to vote on it.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive
reporting about health care and is free to reprint. Visit href="http://healthcare.newsladder.net/">Healthcare.newsladder.net for
a complete list of articles on health care affordability, health care
laws, and health care controversy. For the best progressive reporting on
the Economy, and Immigration, check out href="http://economy.newsladder.net/">Economy.Newsladder.net and href="http://immigration.newsladder.net/">Immigration.Newsladder.net.
This is a project of The
Media Consortium
, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets,
and created by NewsLadder.

Daily Pulse: Has Baucus Pulled Snowe’s Trigger?

2:54 pm in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), perhaps the only moderate Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, predicted that the committee’s forthcoming bill will not include a public option with a trigger. (Note that even if the Finance Committee’s bill doesn’t include a public option, one could still be added later in the legislative process, with or without a trigger.)

Still, the lack of a trigger in the Senate bill would be strange, says Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly, because the trigger was Snowe’s idea.

A public option with a trigger is a compromise whereby a public system would only come into effect if private insurers failed to cut costs within a certain number of years. The alternative would be for the Finance Committee to pass a bill with no public option at all.

To progressives, adopting the "wait and see" approach is like giving Bernie Madoff another five years to run his Ponzi scheme, just to make absolutely sure he’s a crook. On the other hand, if the trigger is written fairly, we can be confident that we’ll get a public option eventually, given the insurers dismal track record for cost control and the lack of competition.

A triggered public option may also appeal to moderates looking for political cover. It lets them say "the public option if necessary, but not necessarily the public option." If costs come down on their own, the public option won’t kick in.

If the Baucus bill doesn’t include a trigger, should we declare the idea DOA? Not necessarily, Benen explains:

So, what’s up? Is Snowe moving away from her own idea? Is the trigger done for? Not really. I did some digging on this earlier and it seems Snowe’s comments were only in the context of the Finance Committee bill, which was never likely to have a trigger anyway. Snowe brought up the idea as far back as the spring, and encouraged the Gang of Six members to consider it, but her Republican colleagues rejected it out of hand. No matter what the Finance Committee agreed to, the trigger wasn’t going to be part of the equation.

But the idea may yet gain traction, because the Finance Committee bill isn’t the be-all, end-all version of the reform legislation. More to the point, the White House is going to have a hand in the process, and if Snowe wants a trigger, and she’s the 60th vote, it may yet happen,

Meanwhile, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) announced that a strong public option would pass by Christmas. Harkin chairs the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP), so he’s in a good position to make that prediction. As chair, Harkin vows to carry on the legacy of his predecessor Sen. Ted Kennedy (D- Mass). Harkin’s Senate HELP Committee provides a liberal counterbalance to Sen. Max Baucus’s (D-Mont) more conservative Finance Committee.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care and is free to reprint. Visit Healthcare.newsladder.net for a complete list of articles on health care affordability, health care laws, and health care controversy. For the best progressive reporting on the Economy, and Immigration, check out Economy.Newsladder.net and Immigration.Newsladder.net. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and created by NewsLadder.

Daily Pulse: Teabaggers March on DC

12:29 pm in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

Signs denouncing imaginary death-panels and non-existent government-funded abortions were among the less extreme messages on display. Watering the liberty tree with blood was a popular theme. (Oklahoma City bomber Tim McVeigh was wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with that slogan when he was arrested.)

Matt Kibbe of FreedomWorks, the premiere sponsor of the march, exaggerated the turnout by a factor of thirty when he falsely attributed to ABC News the claim that 1.5 million people showed up. In fact ABC reported the DC Fire Department‘s estimate of 60,000-70,000 marchers.

A crowd of 70,000 is still cause for concern, especially if its leaders have no compunctions about lying. Saturday’s march was the culmination of months of organizing by the same right-wing, corporate-funded institutions that steered disgruntled folks to shout down health care reformers at town halls: FreedomWorks, Americans for Prosperity, Patients United, and their various offshoots.

Kibbe and his colleagues are trying to paint the march as a spontaneous grassroots movement, but as Adele Stan explains in AlterNet, the Tea Party/Town Hall/Taxpayer March phenomenon is the culmination of years of work by the institutional right. That explains the jumble of messages on display in Washington this weekend: healthcare/guns/taxes/abortion. FreedomWorks didn’t even try to impose message discipline because the cacophony is the message. The entire rag tag New Right coalition, forged in the sixties after the defeat of Barry Goldwater, has risen again.

[Photo by bosspop1, Creative Commons.]

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care and is free to reprint. Visit Healthcare.newsladder.net for a complete list of articles on health care affordability, health care laws, and health care controversy. For the best progressive reporting on the Economy, and Immigration, check out Economy.Newsladder.net and Immigration.Newsladder.net. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and created by NewsLadder.

Daily Pulse: Week in Review

10:25 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

This week, the president attempted to regain control of the health care reform debate with a speech before a special joint session of Congress. Did he succeed? In the video clip, above, Paul Jay of the Real News Network sits down with whistle blower Wendell Potter, a former health insurance industry exec who now fights for a public plan with the Campaign For America’s Future. Potter calls for progressives to put insurance companies under a microscope, to "shine the light on public scrutiny on the horrors of the private insurance system."

Everyone is buzzing about the obscure congressman who heckled the president during the address. Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC), a former aide to Strom Thurmond, screamed "You lie!" when Obama truthfully pointed out that his health plan excludes illegal immigrants. More’s the pity. At Working In These Times, I argue that it would be in the best interests of the U.S. taxpayer to let any resident buy public insurance, regardless of immigration status.

Eligibility for the public plan might be a moot point. In the Nation, Eyal Press wonders if the public option will survive at all. The president dutifully mentioned the possibility of a public option but took every opportunity to stress that he won’t insist on it.

The speech signaled that Obama is finally rolling up his sleeves. He needs to pass a bill, and there’s every reason to think he will do so. The question is whether he has sacrificed too much substance for the sake of a legislative victory.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care and is free to reprint. Visit Healthcare.newsladder.net for a complete list of articles on health care affordability, health care laws, and health care controversy. For the best progressive reporting on the Economy, and Immigration, check out Economy.Newsladder.net and Immigration.Newsladder.net. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and created by NewsLadder.

Daily Pulse: Obama to Outline Vision for Health Care Reform

9:36 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium Blogger

Today, President Obama will spell out his vision for health care reform before a special joint session of Congress. The president’s speech marks the final phase of health care reform. This is Obama’s last chance to recapture the momentum that Democrats lost to corporate-backed town hall hooligans and misinformation during the August recess.

The Uptake asks movers and shakers in Minnesota what they want to see from the president today (video above). Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn) says he wants to see the president explain why the public option is necessary to hold down costs, and reassure them that the public option will not threaten private insurance or lead to cuts in Medicare. "It’s going to be the biggest moment of his presidency," Ellison tells the Uptake, "I hope he makes it a Roosevelt moment, a Kennedy moment, a Lincoln moment, because I think he has the ability to do that."

Devona Walker of New America Media on what Obama needs to do today: Explain the plan clearly, enforce party discipline, and convince the public that reforming health care is the only way to reduce deficits in the long run.

Brooke Jarvis of Yes! Magazine offers a history lesson on why so many presidents have tried and failed to achieve universal health care:

In each case, says historian Beatrix Hoffman, “the relentless opposition of medical, business, and insurance interests pushed reformers to design health care proposals around placating their opponents more than winning popular support. In turn, ordinary people had trouble rallying around complex proposals [that didn’t recognize] a universal right to health care.”

The root of the problem, Hoffman says, was that the proposals came from elites who sought to compromise with interest groups, where they believed real power lay, rather than to ally with grassroots movements

In the Progressive, Cristina Lopez argues that, while everyone needs affordable high quality health insurance, Latinos and women are most in need of a public option because they are at greater risk of being uninsured and unable to afford private insurance.

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo wonders if the Democrats are courting disaster by forcing people to buy heavily subsidized private insurance with no public option to reign in costs:

Am I the only one who thinks that if the Dems pass a bill with mandates and subsidies for poor and moderate income people to purchase it but no public option or competition with the insurers, that it will be pretty much a catastrophe for the Democrats in political terms?

You ‘solve’ the problem of the uninsured by passing a law forcing them to buy health insurance which, by definition, most a) cannot afford or b) are gambling they won’t need because they’re young and healthy. Either you end up with low subsidies which still leave it onerous to buy, thus creating a lot of disgruntled people, or you get generous subsidies, which cost a lot of money.

The health care reform battled has created deep divisions within the Democratic Party. Tonight, the president will pick his side. Will he stand with the progressives for a public option, or will he back the Blue Dogs and their watered-down, politically risky compromise proposal? Keep your eyes on tomorrow’s Pulse for the post-game breakdown.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care and is free to reprint. Visit  Healthcare.newsladder.net for a complete list of articles on health care affordability, health care laws, and health care controversy. For the best progressive reporting on the Economy, and Immigration, check out Economy.Newsladder.net and Immigration.Newsladder.net. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and created by NewsLadder.

Daily Pulse: Baucus Coughs Up a Bill

10:22 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium Blogger

Big news broke over the weekend: Evidently, the president lit a fire under Max Baucus (D-Mont) and the Senate Finance Committee by unexpectedly announcing last week that he’d be laying out his own vision for health care reform this Wednesday. Just weeks ago, committee member Kent Conrad (D-ND) predicted the Finance Committee wouldn’t have a bill until November. But Baucus circulated a legislative framework over the weekend.

Baucus’s bottom line: There will be no public option. Instead, the government will spend hundreds of billions of dollars to subsidize the same old expensive, inadequate private insurance system that health care reform was supposed to reform. The insurance companies get 46 million new customers, and in return, they will pay higher taxes to offset the cost of the subsidies—a kickback to Uncle Sam.

Last week Brian Beutler of Talking Points Memo and I sat down to discuss some burning questions in health care reform: What’s the president’s thinking on the public option? What leverage does he have over the progressives in the House who demand single payer and/or the Blue Dogs in the senate who reject it? Why is Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) the last best hope for bipartisanship? (The transcript of our discussion has been edited for brevity and clarity.)

You said the [week of September 1] really stood out from the last month in terms of the health care debate. How so?

Maybe the last two days just stood out from the previous month. … Obama’s approval [rating] slid and popular support for the idea of healthcare reform slid. And August came to an end and the President’s vacation is winding down, and suddenly the administration realizes that Congress is coming back and they are going to have to do something. And so, it seems they start leaking to a bunch of high profile reporters that they are going to perhaps ditch the public option as part of a grander move to regain control of the debate.

Are the anonymous leakers saying in so many words that they want to ditch the public option?

Well, it’s unclear what they are actually going to do. The Public Option would die with dignity. [If] that is accomplished, the President could maybe win over some Republicans, grab the debate and spell out in clearer terms what he wanted [beyond] the public option. He could do this all in a big speech for Congress which is scheduled to happen Wednesday.

Isn’t this just a repeat of what we saw during the week of August 20, when the White House seemed to be doing a good cop/bad cop routine where an anonymous aide would leak "to hell with the liberals and the public option" and then another adviser would say on the record how much the president loves the public option?

It could just be a replay. Once those stories came out, the picture sort of fogged up. [There were] secondary reports that the President was courting Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) again—as if maybe one Senate Republican would vote with him on health care reform. Snowe’s idea [includes a] public option, but you attach it to a trigger mechanism so that it is only enacted if the rest of healthcare reform is unsuccessful at bringing down prices and expanding coverage. And that’s sort of been unacceptable to reformers and progressives, but … that might be the pound of flesh that she yields from the bill. It fits in with the picture that the leakers painted … that the public option was no longer going to be one of the key features of the bill.

You wrote about how budget reconciliation could be used to get around the filibuster. How would that work?

The greater problem is the structure in the Senate, where legislation can pass with a majority vote—but only after Senators have debated the bill for as long as they want. As long as 60 Democrats aren’t there to shut the minority up, debate can go on and on and on. [ED note: AKA filibustering.] And for every major piece of legislation you see. this happens. …

There’s this de facto 60-vote rule on most legislation, at least in this Congress and the previous Congress since the Democrats took it over. It’s extremely difficult to pass a bill through just the regular procedure without either having to concede a bunch of substantive provisions … or just give up on the bill entirely. [There are] 59 members of the Democratic caucus right now, and maybe 10 of them are mushy on the more progressive part of the President’s agenda. Even if all of them are onboard, you’re still one vote short of what you need to end debate. And that is why Olympia Snowe matters right now.

So the House would pass the bill and the Senate would pass a bill with budget reconciliation?

They could in theory. Budget reconciliation is sort of like a magic bullet. Every year, the Congress can pass what is known as a budget reconciliation bill. It sets new taxes, or moves money around within the federal budget to basically do what the Congress’s budget lays out. It … was made exempt from the filibuster because Congress [has to] set a budget. … They need to make sure that money is there and can’t have Senators filibustering it just because they’re in a fit of peak. So that bill can’t be filibustered, but at the same time, the legislation that can be passed in it has to be relevant to the budget, it has to move money around in some way.

So you can pass a lot of elements of healthcare reform in theory—you can pass subsidies to poor people and middle-income people. And you can pass Medicaid expansion, and you might even be able to pass the public option because the public option may need subsidies of its own and could drive down other costs and be a big moneysaver.

How might the president pressure progressives into accepting the bill?

My sense is that the President [will pressure] progressives to back off on the public option. But that could change. Trying to figure out what is going to happen is kind of like trying to move 23,000 moves ahead in a game of 17 dimensional chess. …

[Obama can] say is that what he’s planning will, while not perfect, help a lot of people make the healthcare system more progressive than it was. … But it would really harm the democratic party and his presidency if the whole project failed and nothing passed. Obama doesn’t have a tremendous amount of leverage. [Many] progressive members of Congress are progressive because they don’t have viable challenges. They come from progressive districts, with constituents like them, approval ratings in the 60s, 70s, and they aren’t going to lose to a member of the opposite party. So in that sense, they can do what they want.

How can Blue Dogs say that progressives should suck it up and vote for every bill when they are never prepared to do the same thing?

… It would at least be a good experiment, for the party and the country, for the [Blue Dogs] to be put on the spot. They believe that their jobs are on the line if they vote for controversial legislation. I don’t know how those conversations go when political members of the administration confront these guys and say ‘You got into politics to make the world a better place, not to just have a tenure job on Capital Hill. So you’re going to vote yes on this and if you lose your jobs as a result, then you did the right thing and we’ll make sure that the Democratic party infrastructure is there for you … .’ But that’s not the way the party thinks. [It's a] game of building an unstoppably large coalition, and that becomes the goal in the end. And at some point you lose sight of why you are amassing this giant congressional majority and you’re never willing to say, well we built this 70 whatever majority so that we could sacrifice some of these seats and do something really impressive and progressive for the good of the country.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care and is free to reprint. Visit  Healthcare.newsladder.net for a complete list of articles on health care affordability, health care laws, and health care controversy. For the best progressive reporting on the Economy, and Immigration, check out Economy.Newsladder.net and Immigration.Newsladder.net. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and created by NewsLadder.