Today we lost two amendment votes in the Senate Finance Committee on the public option, one offered by Sen. Rockefeller (8 ayes, 15 nays), and one by Sen. Schumer (10 ayes, 13 nays). Traditional media outlets everywhere are reporting this is a massive defeat for the public option, but I don't see it that way -- in fact quite the opposite.
I have said before (most recently here) that the Senate Finance Committee was conservative, in fact the most conservative committee makeup in the Senate, and that we would be likely to lose these votes:
With numbers like this, and with the entire Democratic base mobilized intensely around the issue, you would have to be politically tone deaf as a Democrat to oppose this, but this is the Senate Finance Committee, so public option advocates are likely to lose these votes. The question, though, will be the margin. On a committee this conservative, far more conservative than the Senate as a whole, if we only get seven votes for the public option amendments, that would have to be considered a major political victory, and a sign that the public option can definitely get a majority vote on the floor.
So getting 10 votes on this is promising for those of us who believe a public option is essential. Baucus, Conrad, Lincoln, Carper, and Bill Nelson are five of the ten most conservative Dems in the Senate, and on the Schumer amendment, even two of them went with us. President Obama is for it, a majority in the House is for it, and the whip count we're running at OpenLeft.com shows that 51 Democrats are in favor of it. And today Tom Harkin confirmed that our whip count is right:
"I have polled senators, and the vast majority of Democrats -- maybe approaching 50 -- support a public option," Harkin said told the liberal "Bill Press Radio Show." "So why shouldn't we have a public option? We have the votes.
"I believe we'll have the 60 votes, now that we have the new senator from Massachusetts, to at least get it on the Senate floor," Harkin later added. "But once we cross that hurdle, we only need 51 votes for the public option. And I believe there are, comfortably, 51 votes for a public option."
Will all this evidence, the public option will only be hard to beat if Democratic leaders decide they don't want to do it.