Democratic senators have expressed little enthusiasm for adding a public option to the health care reform fix-it bill that is expected to pass the Senate on Thursday before a final vote in the House.
"Not in this bill, because we can't make any substantive changes, but down the road we will be debating that," Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) told the Huffington Post.
The plan was for the Senate simply to approve the "reconciliation" measure unchanged from the version passed by the House on Sunday. Making any changes requires the bill to go back to the House for yet another vote. Hoping to avoid that, Democratic leadership urged caucus members to vote against every amendment -- even tempting ones, such as one that provided a public option -- as Republicans planned to delay the process with an amendment "vote-a-rama."
The obstacle to the public plan when health care reform passed the Senate in December was the need for a 60 vote supermajority to break a filibuster. Under the reconciliation process, amendments require a simple 50-vote majority and a vice presidential tie-breaker to pass. It's possible that Democrats could, in fact, muster the votes.
And now, for mind-numbingly arcane parliamentary reasons, the reconciliation bill will have to go back to the House after all.
So why not go ahead and see if a public option amendment can muster 50 votes? "Oh, we'll have to see here," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) before entering the Senate chamber. "We'll have to see."
Asked about adding a public option through reconciliation when passing the 2011 budget, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) didn't want to talk about it.
"I'd be unwilling to kick up dust on some new matter before we've resolved this one," he told reporters.