House Dems seek to grab momentum created by Senate move on public option

House Democratic leaders on Tuesday sought to capture some of the momentum created by the inclusion of a public health insurance option by locking down as many members as possible on which public option they could support in the House healthcare bill.

Democratic leaders said a House bill could be unveiled as early as Wednesday, and go to the floor for a vote next week.

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But the leftward momentum in the Senate doesn't appear to have won the day for the most liberal alternative. After weeks of lobbying by liberals and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi herself, the more liberal, Medicare-based option had a clear majority of House Democrats, but not the 218 needed to pass it.

A Democratic leadership “whip list” showed 47 Democrats lined up against the more liberal option, dubbed the “robust” option in the parlance of the House. It takes 39 Democrats voting with all Republicans to kill a bill.

But there is room for error in those numbers. The no list includes lawmakers who have said they would support the Medicare-based plan, but oppose the bill for other reasons, such as the income surtax it includes. It also includes several lawmakers who oppose the bill because they believe it will allow taxpayer dollars to fund abortions. Liberals say they believe they can get as many as 207 votes, and would get to 218 if Democratic leadership could put its full weight behind the “robust” option.

The list was presented to a meeting of liberals by House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.).
 
The Democratic Caucus has for months been sharply split between liberals and centrists on the public option question, and the inability of House leaders to get 218 Democrats to commit to either a public option tied to Medicare rates or one that lets physicians negotiate their own Medicare reimbursement rates has made it impossible for the House to advance a bill to the floor.
 
Reid’s announcement on Monday that he would include a public option in the Senate bill, though, has shaken a number of House Democrats from the tree of indecision. And House leaders now say they are no more than days away from being able to bring a bill to the floor and vote on it by the end of next week.
 
At the same time, House leaders still haven’t decided on what their public option will look like.
 
At a noon Democratic Caucus meeting, sentiment remained split. Liberals pressed the case for the “strongest” possible public plan, saying that since the Senate has come around to a public option, the House should keep the pressure on.
 
“We want the [House version] to be as strong as possible,” said Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.), a backer of the robust public option.

“We need to stay strong,” said Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), who since August has been leading the efforts of the Progressive Caucus to include a Medicare-based public option in the final House bill. “Two weeks ago there was not even going to be a public option.”

Centrists stressed that, Reid’s announcement aside, the House still lacks 218 votes for a “robust,” or Medicare-linked public option.
 
“I think that’s where we’re going to wind up,” said Rep. Baron Hill (D-Ind.), a Blue Dog co-chairman. “I can count, and I believe there are the votes for negotiated rates.”
 
A number of leading Democrats, including Assistant to the Speaker Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), said that a final decision on the public option will be made within by Wednesday or Thursday.

Amid the continued vote-counting, there was widespread agreement among Democrats of all stripes that Reid’s move has helped Democratic leaders move far closer to getting 218 members to commit one way or another.
 
Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) said Reid has given comfort to members who felt they were being asked to take a controversial vote on something that might never become law. He said there might be 15 Democrats willing to support the “robust” option because of that.
 
“This is the endgame now,” Weiner said. “All the knowables are known.”