Public option watch

PUBLIC OPTION WATCH…. On Saturday, the New York Times ran a piece suggesting the public option in health care reform remains viable. In light of Republican obstinacy in the face of Democratic concessions, polls showing support for the measure, and the Democratic caucus reaching 60 votes, the landscape for ambitious, progressive reform looked more encouraging than it did just a few weeks ago.

Just two days later, the New York Times has another piece, this one suggesting the public option will inevitably be scuttled by the Senate.

Senator Kent Conrad, Democrat of North Dakota, said the task of merging the two bills [Senate Finance Committee and Senate HELP Committee] would be “very challenging.” Democrats are also mindful of the disaster that befell them in 1994 after the majority leader, George J. Mitchell of Maine, failed to pull together competing health care proposals.

To appeal to Ms. Snowe, as well as to centrist Democrats like Senators Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, the combined bill would not include a proposal for a government-run insurance plan, or public option, despite the clamoring of liberals who support it, senior Democratic Senate aides said.

The NYT didn’t identify the “senior Democratic Senate aides,” who they work for, or even how many of them agreed with the expectation. But, presumably, the Times knows the difference between those credible aides with inside knowledge of party strategy and those who don’t.

The point of the article, by the way, is to highlight the fact that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will “lean heavily on President Obama” in the coming weeks to “arbitrate a number of contentious issues that still threaten to divide liberal and centrist Democrats and derail a final bill.”

If I had to guess, I’d say the push for a public option, if it happens, will have to come from the White House, not the Senate leadership.

Update: Greg Sargent talks to Reid’s office, which denies that the Majority Leader is nixing the public option, and “strongly disputed the story.”