Sanders: Senate has the votes to pass public option via reconciliation

The Senate has the 50 votes necessary to pass a public health insurance option using the budget reconciliation process, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said Thursday.


Sanders, a self-described "democratic socialist" who supports the government-run plan, urged President Barack Obama to push for the public option even though the possibility of passing it appeared to die this week.

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"I think we do have 50 votes in the Senate for a public option and frankly I don't know why the president has not put it in and I hope that we can inject it," Sanders said on MSNBC. "I think it's a very important part of healthcare reform."

It's not clear if Sanders's remarks will encourage leaders to take up the public option, but they will surely give hope to his liberal supporters who have put pressure on Congress to pass a public plan.

The White House and Democratic leaders on Tuesday threw cold water on the possibility of pushing the proposal through, saying that there is not enough support in Congress to do so.

“We have seen, obviously, that though there are some that are supportive of this, there isn’t enough political support in a majority to get this through,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said this week.

Obama did not include the public plan in his healthcare reform proposal released Monday. The Senate's final healthcare bill did not include a public option but the House's did. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) removed the public plan from his bill in December after he could not attract enough centrist support needed to pass the bill under regular order.

But talk of the public option's revival sprouted up last week after some senators circulated a letter calling on Reid to use the reconciliation tactic to pass it, which would allow senators to bypass a cloture vote requiring the support of 60 senators. Only a simple majority is needed to pass legislation under reconciliation.

Reid has expressed openness to using the reconciliation tactic to pass the public option under the right circumstances.

But the letter only has 24 signers, including Sanders, which is well short of the votes needed for the tactic to succeed.

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), which cosponsored the letter, still believes there are more votes to be had on the public option. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) highlighted that fact when he predicted on Tuesday that "a lot more" senators will sign onto the letter.