A Delicate Balance? Public Option Will Not Upset Health Care Reform Compromise - Because No Compromise Currently Exists

A push is currently underway in the Senate to have Democrats include the public option as part of any reconciliation fix. Several Democrats have signed on to Sen. Michael Bennet's (D-CO) letter. Some commentators like Jonathan Cohn and Ezra Klein think adding the public option would disturb some delicate balance of a potential compromise.

The problem is that there is no delicately negotiated compromise to be disturbed.

There is not some magic, perfectly designed compromise hanging on by a thread that Democrats are just waiting to spring on us. If Democrats thought they had the votes for a very modest reconciliation sidecar strategy right now, they would be doing it as we speak. There would not have been weeks of wheel spinning, and this upcoming, silly, televised, bipartisan meeting.

Even if Democrats reach an agreement in principle that can garner the votes in both chambers for a small reconciliation bill, comprised of only some tax modifications and small changes around the edges, I suspect support would disintegrate under public scrutiny and Republican attacks. This small reconciliation measure will be hard to understand, hard to sell, and even harder to justify. Knowing Democrats, they will foolishly put some sweeteners in it to win a few votes, which Republican will latch on to. The Democratic base will not rally around this weird hodgepodge of tax modifications, and the reconciliation will probably die as it makes its way through Congress. I simply can't imagine any deal on small changes to the Senate bill holding on to enough votes after going through a full-on Republican assault.

A reconciliation bill with a public option just makes better political sense. It gives Democrats their best hope of rallying their base. The public option is an easy, two-word justification for the reconciliation measure, and will hopefully distract the media's attention away from possibly less popular changes and special deals that might infest the reconciliation measure. The PO will doubtless be the thing that Republicans attack in the reconciliation measure, but polling has shown their months of attacking the public option has not hurt its popularity. Unlike any of the other changes a smaller reconciliation measure might make, the public option has proven that it can hold up under attack.

Worrying that the public option might ruin a non-existent compromise on a smaller reconciliation bill, one which would quickly shed support votes the second Republicans started the attacks, is misguided. The only hope for health care is a reconciliation sidecar fix, and the only hope of selling reconciliation to the American people is to use it to do something extremely popular--like add a public option. With people already tired of the debate, another bill that no one can understand is not a way forward.

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