An end run around the filibuster for public option?

According to the Washington Examiner, Harry Reid has not stopped rummaging around in his bag of tricks for the public option.  Despite plummeting approval ratings in his home state, Reid wants to push the more radical agenda, but in a way that keeps Republicans from effectively blocking it:

Senate Democrats desperate to find a way to pass a health care bill that includes a federal insurance plan may have come up with a way to do it without putting moderate members who oppose it in political jeopardy.

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is weighing a plan to bring the final health care bill to the floor without a public option — making it much easier to get the 60 votes needed to prevent a Republican filibuster — and then adding the provision later as an amendment.

The public option amendment would be there waiting, but the 60-vote test would technically be on a bill without the government plan. Then moderate Democrats could drop out for the vote on the public option, which requires just 51 votes for passage.

Reid’s spokesman confirmed that Reid is considering this approach, but it depends on a couple of conditions.  First, the non-public-option bill has to pass a filibuster, and with this trick getting public attention, that will be less likely.  All of the Republicans will line up against it, and with the kinds of taxes being discussed by the Finance Committee, some of the Democrats may not want to put their name on the bill, either.  And not to be too tacky, but all 60 Democrats have to show up for the vote, and the health of Robert Byrd makes that at least an open question.

Afterward, the House would have to adopt the bill outright rather than approve their own.  Otherwise, the Republicans could filibuster the conference report, and some Democrats would likely join if it contains a public option.  The odds of the House adopting a Senate version outright seems low, especially with House Democrats fuming over a particular tax provision in it:

More than half of the Democrats in the House have signed on to a letter denouncing a key element of the Senate Finance Committee’s health care legislation as labor unions draw a line in the sand on paying for reform.

The Democrats are attacking a plan to finance expanded health care by taxing expensive health insurance plans. The plan, sometimes cast as a tax on “Cadillac” plans, would in fact include the health care plans of many public employees and union members and has triggered a revolt from Obama’s labor supporters and their many allies on the Hill.

The letter from 154 House Democrats to Speaker Nancy Pelosi urges her “to reject proposals to enact an excise tax on high-cost insurance plans that could be potentially passed on to middle-class families.”

“This is not an obscure detail of health care reform,” said Connecticut Rep. Joe Courtney, who drafted the letter. “Taxing health benefits was explicitly debated in the campaign by presidential candidates and people running for Congress.”

The big objection comes from unions, which are not exempted from this tax in the Baucus plan.  Big Labor has no intention of paying for the ObamaCare plan, especially since their funds are already strapped for health-care coverage in the economic crisis.  Unfortunately, Baucus’ plan relies on that tax for enough revenue to make the plan deficit neutral — which will fail anyway, as the excise tax will force insurers out of those Cadillac plans anyway, including the unions — and can’t be stripped out of the bill without massively increasing taxes elsewhere.  And that’s without the public option.

It’s certainly one of Reid’s options, but it would be almost impossible to pull off.  It does show, however, how underhanded Reid is willing to get in order to insert a program into a bill that has generated outrage and opposition from all but the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.  Remember all of that talk about transparency and openness from Democrats in 2006 and 2008?

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