Reid and the public option

REID AND THE PUBLIC OPTION…. As part of the ongoing look at the push to keep the public option alive, there are, as of this afternoon, 18 Democratic senators urging the party leadership to approve a health care reform bill with a public option through reconciliation.

What does Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) have to say about this? First, a little context.

One of the consistent truths of the debate over health care reform is that, in the Senate, Reid has been sensitive to the demands of his caucus. He’s their leader, but he’s also serves as their representative. I can think of more than a few times when Reid would seem to have a direction in mind on a given issue, only to adjust course after a caucus meeting. Love him or hate him, Harry Reid listens to his members.

And Greg Sargent reports this afternoon that if his members want to pursue a public option, Reid is certainly open to moving forward accordingly.

In another surprising step forward for the public option, Senator Harry Reid’s office says that if a final decision is made to pass health reform via reconciliation, the Majority Leader would support holding a reconciliation vote on the public option.

In a statement Greg re-published, a Reid spokesperson said the Majority Leader still supports the popular measure, adding, “If a decision is made to use reconciliation to advance health care, Senator Reid will work with the White House, the House, and members of his caucus in an effort to craft a public option that can overcome procedural obstacles and secure enough votes.”

On a related note, I should also mention that Health and Human Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told Rachel Maddow last night that if a Senate majority is prepared to move forward on a public option, that would suit the Obama administration just fine. “Certainly. If it’s part of the decision of the Senate leadership to move forward, absolutely,” Sebelius said.

In the interest of providing a variety of important perspectives, I’d also encourage readers to check out concerns raised by Jonathan Cohn — who, like me, is an enthusiastic supporter of a public option — but who’s “really nervous” about the renewed push. Cohn explained, “At this point, it’s going to take a herculean effort by President Obama and the leadership to secure 50 votes even for a modest reconciliation bill, one that merely fixes some of the more egregious flaws in the bill the Senate finally passed. Adding a public option — something more conservative Democrats never liked in the first place — will make that task a lot harder…. [Y]es, adding a public option could produce an even better reform bill. It could also produce no bill at all.”

Stay tuned.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.