Could the Public Option Get a Third Lease on Life?

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I’m not a fan of making health reform-related predictions – especially after the Scott Brown election – so I won’t say No. But I am comfortable saying that it’s EXTREMELY, EXTREMELY unlikely.

But hey, you can’t blame public option devotees for trying. Sixteen Democratic senators and 119 House Democrats have now signed freshman Sen. Michael Bennet’s letter to pass a public option via reconciliation. Bennet, a former school superintendent who was appointed to his seat when Ken Salazar left it to become Obama’s Secretary of the Interior, has the following senators on board:

Michael Bennet – CO
Barbara Boxer – CA
Sherrod Brown – OH
Roland Burris – IL
Dianne Feinstein – CA
Al Franken – MN
Kirsten Gillibrand – NY
John Kerry – MA
Frank Lautenberg – NJ
Patrick Leahy – VT
Jeff Merkley – OR
Barbara Mikulski – MD
Jack Reed – RI
Bernie Sanders – VT
Tom Udall – NM
Sheldon Whitehouse – RI

Greg Sargent says this will take on much more meaning if Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin, who are high up in the Senate Democratic leadership, sign on. I agree with that.

Of course, it’s theoretically possible for a public option to be put back in the Senate bill. Harry Reid only needs 50 senators to vote for a reconciliation package. (Joe Biden would, in that case, cast a tie-breaking vote.) Reid might have been able to wrangle 50 pro-public option votes back in December when the Senate bill was on the floor and he needed 60 to break a filibuster. But the political climate is worse for Democrats now and the fact that the White House has not signaled an interest in renewing the public option means, as I said, it’s extremely unlikely the idea will become politically viable. Bennet, after all, is the senator who said this.