Wednesday, September 30, 2009

If It Gets Real Bad, Think About Space

Well, the public option amendments were both voted down yesterday in the Senate Finance Committee. Three questions: first, why? Second, what happens next? Third, what can we do?

1) The reason this amendment was voted down was lobbyist money. One of the votes that almost nobody counted in the press, and which I overlooked as well, was that of Max Baucus himself, the chairman of the Finance Committee -- who kept repeating that the bill didn't have 60 votes in the Senate, so he couldn't vote for the amendment. But Baucus, as points out, has told his own constituents that he "wants a public option too" and there's a strong argument to be made that his leadership alone could have motivated a fence-sitter like North Dakota's Kent Conrad. The Senate as a whole, when they take up the debate, could easily strip the Finance Committee's public option amendment -- the HELP committee didn't seem to have any trouble putting a public option into their bill, whether it would pass the general vote or not. For the Schumer amendment, Baucus and Conrad alone would have been enough for passage -- just these two senators. But Baucus (as well as Blanche Lincoln, and frankly all the 'no' votes on the public option) is a MASSIVE recipient of health insurance lobbying money. Here is a graphical representation of the clouds of buzzing health insurance industry lobbyists that feed on the Montana senator (explained here). A comparison of 'no' voting Democratic senators with the money they accept from industry lobbies is here -- Baucus is at the head of the list with 7.7 million dollars raised over the course of his career, and Lincoln is second. We could have had this amendment: we should have had it. Voters and activists have done their part and the nation wants it. It is very specifically the political patronage of the health insurance industry that has prevented the passage of a public option.

2) Nobody really knows what happens now. The Baucus Bill will have to be merged with the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee (HELP) bill, which contains a public option, and it will have to go up for debate on the floor of the Senate, and it will have to be merged with the House bill, which also contains a public option. It seems true that there are more than 50 votes to pass a public option in the Senate -- but to prevent a Republican filibuster, we need 60 votes, which means all 58 Democrats, plus Sanders of Vermont, plus one other vote. Nobody can work on that one vote, though, and nobody can really put together a strategy to pass parts of the plan through budget reconciliation (a legislative option that only requires 51 votes) until Senate Democrats get it into their heads that a public option is what the nation wants, that it is overwhelmingly what the party wants, and that the coming election will be much harder for everyone if the health care plan they end up passing is a give-away to insurance interests.

3) What we can do now is much more than what we could before we knew what was going to happen in the Finance committee -- in the coming floor debate, we will be well served by Senators of all stripes, from all states coming forward to support the bill. Signing up with HCAN or just using their service to call your senator sends a clear message that supporters of the public option have supporters among the public. If your senator's for the public option, tell them to get up and speak out for it. If they're waffling (this list is a good source to figure out who's a trustworthy supporter, and who's weak), tell them how much you hate waffles, and threaten to make pancakes of them in the 2010 elections (or some such metaphor, which is better constructed and less threatening).

And if you find yourself wanting to hock a lugie at Max Baucus for selling us out, maybe it'd be a good idea to take a second, chill out, and listen to Carl Sagan sing techno about space.

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