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Wednesday, Sep 30, 2009, 7:53 am

Daily Pulse: Finance Committee Rejects Public Options, But the Fight Continues

By Lindsay Beyerstein
Yesterday, the powerful Senate Finance Committee met to debate two amendments that would have inserted a public option into the committee's health reform bill. Both amendments were defeated as key Democrats sided with Republicans and the insurance companies. David Corn of Mother Jones diagnoses what ails Senate Democrats. It's split personality disorder: "They are the best friends of the health insurance industry. They are fiercest foes of the health insurance industry."

Sen. Jay Rockefeller's (D-WV) strong public option amendment was defeated 15-8 because senators Max Baucus (D-MT), Kent Conrad (D-ND), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Bill Nelson (D-FL), and Tom Carper (D-DE) joined the committee's ten Republicans. In the next round of voting, Nelson and Carper backed Chuck Schumer's (D-NY) amendment, but Baucus, Conrad and Lincoln stuck with the GOP and voted it down. Ironically, as Corn observes, the Senate Democratic communications team was busy emailing blistering indictments of the insurance industry while key members of the caucus were doing the insurers' bidding.

John Nichols of The Nation worries that yesterday's defeat is a sign that Congress is backing away from a public option, which was itself a compromise alternative to a single-payer, Medicare-for-all type system:
Tuesday's day-long gathering of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, where chairman Max Baucus has spent months lowering expectations, offered a sense of just how dim prospects for meaningful systemic change have become.

Baucus, the insurance-industry representative who doubles as a Democratic senator from Montana, long ago rejected the notion that a robust public option might be a part of any healthcare reform measure that would pass the Senate.

The Senate Finance Committee went on to add tens of millions of dollars for discredited abstinence-only propaganda for teens, as Mike Lillis of the Washington Independent reports. Well, at least pseudoscience has a public option. If kids can learn this nonsense for free at school, maybe they'll ditch church, where you have to put your money in the collection plate to hear the sermon.

Chris Bowers of AlterNet argues that a public option still has 51 votes in the Senate. Which means that the Democrats could still pass a healthcare bill by majority vote in the upper chamber, if they decided to forgo their quest for a filibuster-proof 60 and pass the bill through budget reconciliation.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), chair of the Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee, claims to have the votes to pass a plan with a public option, Lynda Waddington reports in the Iowa Independent. Harkin believes that the full Senate should have the opportunity to vote on the public option, considering that it's part of four out of the five bills that have been approved so far.

The fight for a public option isn't over yet. To date, all of the other health reform bills that are out of committee include a strong public option. The next step is putting these bills together to create the final legislation for the House and Senate to vote on.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care and is free to reprint. Visit Healthcare.newsladder.net for a complete list of articles on health care affordability, health care laws, and health care controversy. For the best progressive reporting on the Economy, and Immigration, check out Economy.Newsladder.net and Immigration.Newsladder.net. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and created by NewsLadder.

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times' City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://www.hillmanfoundation.org/hillmanblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.

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