Can the House deliver a robust public option?

Most of the speculation on a public option in ObamaCare has focused on the Senate.  With a 70-seat majority in the House, everyone assumed that Nancy Pelosi could easily deliver on government coverage, especially with the progressives in her caucus threatening to commit hara-kiri if the moderates didn’t play ball.  However, Greg Sargent at The Plum Line got a copy of a document from Majority Whip James Clyburn’s office, and it looks as though Pelosi and Clyburn fall short of 200 votes on a “robust public option,” at least at the moment:

The House Dem leadership has conducted its preliminary whip count and has tallied up less than 200 likely Yes votes in support of a health care reform bill with a robust public option, well short of the 218 needed for passage, according to an internal whip count document I’ve obtained.

The document — compiled by the office of House leader James Clyburn — was distributed privately at a meeting between Clyburn and House progressives today where the fate of the public option was the subject of some contentious debate, with liberals demanding that House leaders push harder to win over votes.

How dire has the situation become in the House?  This bad:

One House progressive tells me he’s convinced that most of the undecideds, and a number of the No votes, can be won over with the right mix of pressure and incentives — which only the House leadership and the White House can provide.

“Only leadership and the White House can get this done,” this progressive says. The time would appear to be now…

In all fairness, Pelosi has provided a surfeit of leadership, bordering on the dictatorial, on the public option.  Other than tossing wads of cash onto the House floor and excluding No voters from grabbing it, there doesn’t seem to be much more she could do.  That leaves the White House, which has provided no leadership whatsoever to this point — and most people would be hard-pressed to state for certain whether Obama wants a public option or not.

Obama has tried very hard to eat his cake and have it, too, on this question.  All summer long, the White House staff has indicated that Obama would accept a bill without a public option, while Obama publicly gave support for it, but only in generalities and never in specifics.  Two months ago, the administration threatened to release its own version of ObamaCare in order to get past the impasse on Capitol Hill, but that plan has yet to materialize.  Obama knows that the public option has become unpopular and he wants to avoid linking it to himself, preferring to have Pelosi and Harry Reid tarred with its brush rather than himself.  That may be many things, but leadership it is not.

If the House can’t pass a public option, then Reid’s off the hook.  One has to wonder whether he may not secretly root for that outcome so that he can then take Joe Lieberman’s advice and start a more incremental approach instead.

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David Strom 8:41 PM on January 30, 2023