Public option whip count reaches 36: Ron Wyden, Mark Udall, and Ted Kaufman

Update–Ted Kaufman makes 36: Ryan Grim:

Sen. Ted Kaufman will vote for a public insurance option as part of a health care reconciliation package, the Delaware Democrat told HuffPost Tuesday evening.

Whip count numbers now reflect this update.

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The public option whip count in the Senate continues to make progress.  Senator Ron Wyden says he would vote yes to pass a reconciliation bill with a public option:

Wyden, in a statement, said, “I’ve long believed we need a more competitive insurance market. If the House version of the public option came up for a vote in reconciliation I would vote yes.”

Also, in Colorado, Senator Mark Udall says the same:

Senator Udall shares President Obama’s over-arching priority of enacting meaningful and comprehensive health reform that will increase quality and access and put our system on a sustainable track by lowering costs for small businesses, taxpayers, and American families. As part of reform, he continues to feel that inclusion of a public option to go head-to-head with private insurers could play a significant role in bringing down costs and offering more affordable options to Coloradans. He thinks it’s important that such a plan — like the one approved in the House bill — negotiate reimbursement rates while competing on a level playing field with the private sector, and if such a plan comes up for a vote under the reconciliation process, he would vote for it.

So, here are the new whip count numbers:

Question #1: Open to using reconciliation to finish health reform?

Yes: 44

Maybe: 6

Nope: 1

No comment: 8

Question #2: Include a public option in reconciliation bill?

Yes: 36

Maybe: 5

No: 6

No comment: 12

The only “no” on reconciliation is Blanche Lincoln.  As such, it is worth noting that her new primary opponent, Bill Halter, supports passing a public option through reconciliation:

Asked directly if he supported a public plan that would give folks access to Medicare or something like it, Halter answered: “Yes.”

“If you give individuals the opportuinity to voluntarily buy into a system like Medicare, there is broad support for that,” Halter said.

Asked directly whether he’d back a reconciliation vote on the public option – and the use of reconciliation in general to pass reform, which Lincoln has hedged on – Halter answered Yes on both counts.

“Reconciliation has been used multiple times not just on tax bills but on health bills,” he said.

When the “yes” and “maybe” votes on reconciliation are combined, they total 49.  As such, if this pressure forced Blanche Lincoln to change her position on reconciliation, there would now be enough votes to pass a fix to the Senate health reform bill through the budget reconciliation process.

Public option whip count: Casey signs on, Dodd supportive–Updated

This morning brings news that Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey supports passing a public option through reconciliation.  Ryan Grim quotes a spokesperson from Senator Casey’s office:

“He has been a longtime advocate for a public option and he believes that it is the best way to increase choice and competition and to hold insurance companies accountable. He has made this known to Senate leadership as next steps are considered. If there is a vote on the House public option in reconciliation, he will vote yes.”

Additionally, although a bit more cryptically, Senator Chris Dodd signals his support:

Currently, 30 Senate Democrats have indicated their support for passing a public option in an up or down vote via reconciliation. And last week, in a brief interview off the Senate floor, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) said they speak for him as well. “I appreciate the fact that…other members here have expressed my feelings about the issue,” he said.

This gives us the following whip count totals:

Question #1: Open to using reconciliation to finish health reform?

Yes: 42

Maybe: 6

Nope: 1

No comment: 10

Question #2: Include a public option in reconciliation bill?

Yes: 32

Maybe: 7

No: 6

No comment: 14

As I detailed yesterday, all of the “maybes” on question #2 seem like “yes” votes.  However, as I will discuss in a subsequent post, the emerging process to finish health reform is a serious complicating factor to all of this.

Update–Harry Reid joins in: WhipCongress now lists Harry Reid as a supporter.  That makes 33 in favor of a public option through reconciliation.

Senate public option whip count update

Yesterday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that the public option was not currently on the table:

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) predicted Sunday that she would find the votes to pass a health care overhaul and said Democrats had already made major concessions to Republicans, including ditching the public insurance option.

“A year later, we’re closer to what Republicans were suggesting at that time, an exchange and not a public option,” she said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Pelosi said, “There is no public option on the table now.”

Pelosi’s statement echoed her earlier implication that the White House was not considering including a public option in the Senate reconciliation process, and Senator Tom Harkin’s pessimistic comments on the public option last week.

And yet, despite this, public support for passing a public option in reconciliation continues to grow.  Over at WhipCongress.com, 29 Senators have now signed the Bennet letter in support of a public option via reconciliation (although the website says 30, I count 29).  Additionally, Russ Feingold has told a member of the Open Left community, Peter from WI, that he would support a public option via reconciliation.  That makes 30.

Among the eight “maybe” Senators on the public option, there is significant potential for more support:

  1. Maria Cantwell’s office was non-committal, but stated Senator Cantwell supports the public option
  2. Bob Casey’s office stated that Senator Casey supported reconciliation to finish health care, and also supported the public option, but did not clearly state he supported passing a public option in reconciliation.
  3. Others have stated that Tom Harkin supports passing a public option through reconciliation.  Further, even though he sounded pessimistic on its chances, he certainly sounded like a supporter when talking with Salon on Thursday.
  4. Herb Kohl’s office said Senator Kohl was “not opposed” to including a public option in reconciliation
  5. Senator McCaskill’s office said the Senator was open to reconciliation, and has supported the public option in the past.
  6. Harry Reid’s office said reconciliation was on the table, and that Senator Reid supports the public option.
  7. Jon Tester’s office said Senator Tester supported the public option, but was noncommittal on passing one through reconciliation.
  8. Senator Wyden’s office sounded exactly the same notes.

That is eight more potential support for a public option through reconciliation, for a potential total of 38.  So, even with all the pessimism, 50 no longer seems impossible.

The key at this point is making sure that there is a vote to include a public option in the Senate reconciliation bill.  Such votes are far from guarantees, since Republicans and some conservative Democrats are going to try and defeat reconciliation for health reform through an endless series of amendments.  As such, the Senate Democratic leadership is going to try and limit the number of amendments offered by as much as possible.  Back in December, other Republican delay tactics prevented a Senate vote on Medicare for all.  In this case, they might prevent a vote on the public option.

Senate whip count: reconciliation reaches 53, public option reaches 40

According to Whipcongress.com, Senators Daniel Akaka, Byron Dorgan, and Jon Tester, have stated their support for a public option through reconciliation.

This brings the number of signatories up to 40.  With Tom Harkin, Herb Kohl, and Claire McCaskill as definite “maybes,” 50 votes in the Senate is starting to seem plausible.  Of course, given ongoing vote troubles for Democrats in the House, that chamber needs to be monitored and whipped at least as closely in any public option campaign.

Oh, and there are now 53 Senators on record publicly open to using reconciliation on health care.  That should help increase confidence in the viability of the “sidecar bill” reconciliation fix strategy.

Whip count at 31: Kohl open to reconciliation, “not opposed” to including public option

Longtime Open Left participant Neal scores a big find for the Senate reconciliation whip count.  Just received from Neal over email:

I actually got through to Senator Kohl’s office. First directly to XX. She transferred me to XXX, Kohl’s aid specifically for responding to health care-related inquiries. She was very forthcoming. No definite answers, but she tried to address the questions (that I read more or less verbatim from you instructions email):

*****

–Does Senator [FILL IN BLANK] support using the reconciliation process to forge a deal with the House of Representatives and finish health reform?

XXX: “I don’t know.” She went on to say that Kohl was proud of the Senate bill and is strong supporter of health care reform now. She said that Kohls doesn’t generally pre-disclose his position before legislation is on the table.  I pressed a little and she ended by saying that Kohl “would be open to using reconciliation” to finish the process.

–Does Senator [FILL IN BLANK] support including a public option in that reconciliation process, including signing onto Senator Bennet’s letter on the public option?

XXX: Started by saying that Senator Kohl is a supporter of the public option. He would “not be closed to the public option in reconciliation.

*****

I was surprised at how forthcoming she was. Whenever I’ve called Kohl’s office in the past, I’ve gotten the hurry up, say what you want, we’ll get back to you treatment. Never actually got to talk with someone about something. I’d say Ms. XXXXX answers to both of the questions were definite maybes.

Thanks for your efforts on this, and everything else. Best….

Great, great job Neal.  Fantastic stuff.

I am a bit more optimistic than Neal.  I take this as a “yes” to question #1 (use reconciliation to finish health reform), and a “maybe” to question #2 (include a public option in health reform).  The key is the difference between “open,” which I take as a yes, and “not be closed,” which I take as a maybe.

Up to 31 Senators who are in favor of, or open to, using reconciliation to finish health reform.  That is up 10 Senators in just one day, and only 19 away from the goal.

Update (Adam): Also, courtesy of our new Change.org widget, CREDO Action has a petition on this you can sign without leaving OpenLeft, titled “It’s Time for Reconciliation”. It’s in the top right corner above the normal Menu. Simply click “Take Action” to get started on signing.

Senate reconciliation whip count: 30 for reconciliation 17 with public option

The Senate reconciliation whip count continues to make progress.  As of this morning, 28 Senators have made public statements in support of using reconciliation to finish health reform, and 15 have agreed to sign onto the Bennet letter supporting a public option during that reconciliation process.  That is an increase of 7 reconciliation supporters, and 6 public option supporters, from yesterday.

Senate reconciliation whip count

Question #1: Use reconciliation to finish health reform?

Yes: 28

Maybe: 2

No: 2

Unknown: 27

Question #2: Sign Bennet letter including public option in reconciliation?

Yes: 15

Maybe: 5

No: 4

Unknown: 35

The PCCC, DFA and CREDO coalition confirmed Barbara Boxer and Jack Reed this morning.  David Dayen confirmed Tom Udall was a go on reconciliation this morning.  Daily Kos user GOTV confirmed Carl Levin last night.

On our end, we have made press inquiries to about 50 of the 59 members of the Democratic caucus.  Follow-ups go out this afternoon, and I will personally be making 5 new requests this morning.  We should hit our goal of making media inquiries to every member of the caucus later today.

There is a lot of momentum behind this effort.  The ultimate goal is to get 50 Senators to agree to both, including hitting 50 on question #1 by the time of the February 25th health summit.

Huge thanks to our two dozen volunteers who have made media inquiries so far.  Join in the advocacy side of the whip effort here.  More updates as they come in during the day.

Update: Senators Barbara Mikulski and Frank Lautenberg sign on.  That pushes the count up to 30 for reconciliation, and 17 for a public option in reconciliation.  Big Mo’!  

Will Romanoff’s Move Put the Public Option Back On the Table?

The big news this afternoon was Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) abandoning his previous promise to offer an amendment to the Senate health care bill adding a public option into the bill. This amendment would need only 51 votes, as the public option reduces the deficit (by a lot) and therefore is in order for reconciliation. Sanders announcement that he is backing down to the Senate Democratic leadership and White House aides who cut a deal with hospital/drug lobbyists to kill the public option seemed to suggest the public option is dead. That is, until Colorado Senate Democratic candidate Andrew Romanoff tonight just issued a statement that will put significant pressure on his primary opponent, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), to offer the amendment instead:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Romanoff: Where’s the ‘Public Option’ Champion?

After  learning today that no member of the United States Senate would stand up for a “public option” in health care reform, U.S. Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff issued the following statement:

“As Speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives, I led the fight against insurance companies that unreasonably delay or deny their customers’ valid claims. I know first-hand the lengths that industry will go to resist reform.

“I am deeply disappointed to learn that no member of the U.S. Senate is willing to offer an amendment to restore the public option to the health care bill.

“Millions of Americans cannot afford to keep up with the soaring costs of health insurance. That is why a majority of the American people support a public option. The Congressional Budget Office has concluded that a public option will reduce the deficit.  

“I call on the leadership of the U.S. Senate to allow an up-or-down vote on the public option. We should not allow the insurance industry to kill the competition the American public wants.”

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Bennet has spent the last month and a half touting his letter demanding a public option – and getting a lot of press for that move (deservedly so, IMHO). But now, thanks to Romanoff’s demand, he will have to put up or shut up. If he refuses to offer the amendment, he shows his past efforts to be kabuki theater – grandstanding for attention while refusing to actually take the steps necessary to do what he publicly claims he wants to do.

Bennet, as this clip from the Rachel Maddow Show proves, has shown a willingness to respond to primary pressure on the public option – and he may be even more willing to respond to that pressure considering he just lost the Colorado Democratic caucuses this week.

Oh, and how many other Senate Democratic primary challengers across the country are going to start issuing similar statements against Senate Democratic incumbents?

Stay tuned – this is going to get interesting.  Romanoff will be on my AM760 radio show to discuss this on Monday. Tune in here from 7-10am every weekday.

Did Obama Kill the Public Option in July?

Congress will pass health care reform any day now, and it probably won’t have a public option to hold private insurance accountable.  Even though a version passed the House last November, and 51 Senators are on record saying they would vote for it.  And while Democrats are at this point “damned if they do” and “damned if they don’t” on passing a very unpopular bill, the public option consistently has strong support.  But Majority Whip Dick Durbin said the Senate won’t even vote on a public option unless the House puts it in the final legislation, and a few hours later Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that could not happen.  President Obama has been justifiably slammed for not pushing hard enough for a public option, but the truth may be even worse than that.  We know the White House cut a deal with hospitals and insurance companies last July on prescription drugs – but as a New York Times reporter said this week, they also killed the public option.  And given the public option’s inexplicable fate, I have to believe the story.

51 votes exist in Senate — IF Nancy Pelosi passes the public option instead of killing it

Last night, on MSNBC's Ed Show, the PCCC and our partners at WhipCongress.com announced, “We can say with confidence that there would be at least 51 votes for the public option in the Senate if the House goes first” and then named names and revealed new information.

Ed Schultz called it “the best reporting I have seen anywhere on a head count of the public option.” (Ok, ok, he hasn't seen Chris's awesome reporting…) Here's the video: 

Senate Democrats acting in bad faith on the public option? The proof isn’t there, yet

Here is where the Open Left public option whip count stood in the Senate as of late November, 2009:

  • Oppose bill with any public option (3): Mary Landrieu; Joe Lieberman; Blanche Lincoln
  • Open to an opt-in public option (1): Ben Nelson.

    –Note: Not a worthwhile public option to support
  • Wouldn’t filibuster an overall bill with a public option (2): Evan Bayh; Kent Conrad (never threatened to filibuster).

    –Note: Neither would vote for a public option either as an amendment or stand alone bill.
  • Liked the opt-out (1): Mark Pryor.

    –Note: Unclear if Pryor would support non-opt-out
  • Wouldn’t vote against an overall bill with negotiated rates public option (3): Mark Begich (“not a dealbreaker,” via constituent letter); Max Baucus (claims to want public option, supposedly voted against it only because it doesn’t have 60); and Mark Warner.

    –Note: Never promised support as an amendment or as a stand-alone, but wouldn’t vote against a bill with one
  • Support negotiated rate public option (50): The rest.

    –Note: See Washington Independent scorecard.  Add Tom Carper, subtract Mark Warner

Even now that Paul Kirk is no longer in the Senate, this count shows 49 supporters for a negotiated rates public option, plus one more if it is an opt-out (Pryor).  With Biden, that is enough for passage.

Further, if the public option was included in the bill sent to the floor, rather than added as an amendment, three more votes–Begich, Baucus and Warner–could be counted on.  That leaves room for defections, such as the one Jay Rockefeller recently made (although I still think Rockefeller is a potential “yes” vote).

Given this count, in theory, there should be plenty of votes to pass a public option through reconciliation.  This is especially the case if an opt-out, negotiated rates public option was included in the bill sent to the Senate floor–something which Harry Reid did back in 2009.  So, why doesn’t it appear that Senate Democrats will pass a reconciliation bill with a  negotiated rates public option?

Glenn Greenwald argues this is an example of bad faith.  Senators Dick Durbin’s office claims they are not going to allow any amendments to the bill the House sends them, but would whip for a bill that included a negotiated rates public option.  The basic idea is that they don’t want to blow up any deals on votes once the bill reaches the floor, and they don’t want to give Republicans an opening to filibuster the bill through endless series of amendments.

While I am well aware that the White House is not pushing for the public option at all, I am still not willing to call it bad faith just yet.  This is because no one has proven that there are 216 votes in the House for a reconciliation “fix” to the Senate health reform bill that includes a negotiated rates public option.  There were 220 proven votes in the House back in November, but since that time three “yes” votes are no longer around, and an undetermined group of Stupak voters has also been lost.

Until someone proves that the House has 216 for a reconciliation fix with a public option, then the argument coming out of Durbin’s office cannot be disproven.  Adding a public option to the reconciliation bill in the Senate might well blow up a deal with the House, and cause the package to go down.  This is especially given that in order to pass the bill, House leaders are going to have to cull about a dozen votes from the 37 remaining Democrats who voted “no” in November.

So yeah, it is possible that the Democratic leadership is acting in bad faith on the public option, but it hasn’t been proven yet.  The post shows that the votes should be there in the Senate.  No one has made the same case for the House, but that will be the focus in the last-ditch effort for the public option over the next few days.