Big day for the public option

BIG DAY FOR THE PUBLIC OPTION…. Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), two of the leading proponents of an ambitious and progressive health care reform effort, will be leading the charge today in the Senate Finance Committee on a public option. On a conference call yesterday, they sounded surprisingly optimistic.

“The health care bill that is signed into law by the President will have a good, strong, robust public option,” Schumer said.

How that will happen remains an open question. But the Senators assured reporters on the call that we’re all going to get a taste of their passion and persuasiveness on this issue at the ongoing Senate Finance Committee hearings on Friday.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Rockefeller said of the public option. “Chuck Schumer thinks it’s a great idea. And we’re going to be all over it tomorrow.”

Schumer said there will be a “full-blown debate” and that “even though the public option might be the underdog in the Senate Finance Committee, don’t count it out.”

“Tomorrow is the opening day in our big fight,” he said.

That sounds pretty exciting, but if I were a betting man, I wouldn’t put money on the public option getting out of the Finance Committee. Rockefeller said there’s a “good shot” that the panel will approve the measure. I’m not sure how — Dems have a 13-10 margin on the committee, but at least two Dems (Conrad and Lincoln) oppose the provision, and even Chairman Max Baucus is likely to vote against it. Indeed, it’s long been assumed that the public option has no shot in the committee, and would have to be considered later in the process.

Nevertheless, spirited support for the measure is welcome, and if/when it falls short today, we can expect Schumer and Rockefeller to push even more aggressively if/when the bill progresses.

What’s more, they certainly won’t be the only ones. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said on MSNBC yesterday that he, too, is optimistic about the public option’s chances. “Not every Democrat right now would prefer the public option in the Senate,” Brown told Ed Schultz, “but no Democrat in the end is going to vote against a procedural question to kill the health care bill.” I wish I could say I share his confidence.

As for the House, the leadership is still in an awkward spot — keep the public option and lose Blue Dogs, scrap the public option and lose the left. Ryan Grim had a very interesting report late yesterday on the Blue Dog whip count, which showed many center-right Democrats with higher priorities than this one provision.

“Blocking a public health insurance option is a relatively low priority for conservative Blue Dog Democrats, according to an ongoing survey of its members,” Grim reported. “The fading House opposition could clear the way for the public option to move through the chamber.”