I’ve been following the public option revival campaign in the Senate with interest, since with reconciliation on the table the math for a public option now looks possible. The revival movement received its first major blow when Senator Jay Rockefeller said he was disinclined to back it yesterday. This is a major setback precisely because, as Chris Bowers notes, Rockefeller had been such a public option stalwart back in 2009. Not only is Rockefeller’s vote one the public option could use, but Rockefeller has a level of stature on the Hill that Sens Bennett, Gillibrand, Burris, Merkley, etc.
Meanwhile, as I tweeted last night the public option advocates who’ve been looking to create a “betrayed by Obama” narrative for months now really have something to work with. Back when the hurdle was 60 votes, there was just no plausible scenario in which White House involvement would manufacture 60 votes for a public option. Nor was there any plausible scenario in which White House pressure would convince Senators to opt for reconciliation. But now that external events have forced the Senate’s hand on the reconciliation front, we’re looking at much more realistic math and the White House’s evident lack of interest in the topic is a real impediment to the public option. It’s hard to believe, for example, that Barack Obama couldn’t have persuaded Rockefeller to reconsider his view on this.
Ezra Klein and Jon Cohn, both of whom are well-sourced among the key reform movers and shakers on the Hill and in the White House, both say the public option push is regarded as unhelpful to the cause of reviving reform but I haven’t really heard a persuasive explanation of why — in a first-order sense — injecting a dose of well-liked populism into the package would be a problem.