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Pelosi lacks votes for most sweeping public option

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MWM Member Level  Friday, 10/23/09 11:35:23 AM
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Pelosi lacks votes for most sweeping public option
Mike Allen Mike Allen – Fri Oct 23, 7:53 am ET

Speaker Nancy Pelosi counted votes Thursday night and determined she could not pass a “robust public option” — the most aggressive of the three forms of a public option House Democrats have been considering as part of a national overhaul of health care.

Pelosi's decision—coupled with a significant turn of events yesterday during a private White House meeting—points to an increasingly likely compromise for a “trigger” option for a government plan.

Administration officials have been telling POLITICO for weeks now that this the most likely compromise because it can probably satisfy liberals—albeit only reluctantly and after many vent frustration and some even threaten to walk away from the bill.

This would clear the way for backers to sneak a limited public option through the Senate by attracting moderate Democrats and then to win President Barack Obama's signature.

Obama told Democratic leadership at the White House Thursday evening that his preference is for the trigger championed by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) – a plan that would allow a public plan to kick in if private insurers don’t expand coverage fast enough, a top administration official told POLITICO. It’s also sign Obama is interested in maintaining a sense of bipartisanship around the health reform plan.

At that meeting, Obama did not sign on to a plan being floated by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to include a different variation of the public option in the Senate bill – a plan that would create a national public plan but allow states to “opt-out.” Reid now believes he can get 60 votes to bring a bill with that plan to the floor by breaking an expected GOP filibuster – and then secure the 51 votes needed to pass it.

But Pelosi’s vote-counting didn’t go as well in the House. There has been a flurry of rumors that a robust government option remains viable. But top House Democrats privately concede that is wishful thinking that ignores the power of moderate Democrats in this debate.

The House is now likely to include one of the two weaker versions in the bill that will be considered on the floor as Obama’s historic health-reform plan chugs toward passage – possibly a version that would set rates for the public plan by allowing doctors and hospitals to negotiate them with Medicare.

Nadeam Elshami, deputy communications director and senior adviser to the speaker, said: "Speculation that a final decision has been made about the public option are not accurate. We continue to work with all the members of the caucus to build consensus."

A House Democratic official said: "The leadership did not tell progressives last night that the robust public option is off the table. The votes are still being counted."

The vote count is a disappointment to liberal members in the House, after two days in which Pelosi seemed increasingly confident she could secure the votes needed for the most liberal option. She had her top lieutenants polling members and even enlisted progressive leaders in trying to corral more support.

“Votes aren’t there,” a top official said. “The progressives are always more optimistic than reality.”
But the final outcome could be helpful to the crucial members of her caucus from conservative-leaning districts, who opposed the most liberal version of the public option, one tied to Medicare rates.

The speaker has proven herself a reliable vote counter, and she wants to release a bill that she knows can get at least 218 votes. Aides say the count was somewhat of a surprise, but not completely.

The speaker plans to roll out the House bill with a big ceremony on the West Front of the Capitol.

That was planned for Tuesday or Wednesday, and may still happen then. But aides say that disappointing first tally could delay the timeline a bit as they scramble to finalize the bill that will be considered on the House floor.

Follow the discussion about this story in POLITICO’s Health Care Arena.

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