They can’t hold the bill hostage

THEY CAN’T HOLD THE BILL HOSTAGE…. President Obama released a letter this week, offering some new details on what the White House wants to see in the health care reform package being debated on the Hill. Yesterday, Senate Republicans said Obama, who voiced his “strong” support for a public option, shouldn’t have done that.

Senate Republicans showed growing frustration Thursday with President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats over a public insurance plan, calling it a deal breaker that would kill prospects for a bipartisan health care reform bill.

Obama angered Republicans with a letter Wednesday stating that Americans must be able to choose between private and public insurance, and the tensions spilled into negotiating sessions Thursday between key senators.

“It wasn’t helpful,” Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, said of the president’s letter. “Words make a difference, and it made a difference.”

Of course it made a difference. That was the point.

Republicans are looking at this the wrong way. Responding to the president’s policy preferences, Grassley said, “Our caucus is very, very much against a public option.” Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) said the Senate was making “great progress” on a weaker health care bill, but Obama’s interference may derail their efforts. Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wy.) said the same thing.

To hear GOP lawmakers tell it, the president has a choice — he can have a weak bill that enjoys bipartisan support, or he can have a strong bill that enjoys Democratic support. Republicans believe Obama’s position makes the latter more likely than the prior.

And that’s supposed to be a bad thing.

Let’s not forget that while the president would no doubt love to have a health care bill that passes the Senate with unanimous support, the package, when it eventually reaches the floor, will be considered under the reconciliation process. Republicans, in other words, won’t be able to filibuster the legislation, and with a 59-member Democratic caucus, whether Ben Nelson and Evan Bayh are happy is not determinative.

For what it’s worth, Max Baucus of Montana, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, told reporters yesterday, “I think a bill that passes the Senate will have some version of a public plan option.”