Ezra Klein gives a cheery update on the healthcare imbroglio to report that Senator Reid is “leaning toward” discussing a public option.
As he writes:
“We’re leaning towards talking about a public option,” said Harry Reid at a press conference today. Greg Sargent, along with a lot of other reporters, thought this was a weird comment. I think it reveals more than people realize, and it should make public option supporters very happy.
Klein argues that if the option is discussed during the negotiations phase there is a high likelihood of some sort of “compromise” slipped into the bill – whereas, if the option goes directly to vote it would not get the 60 votes necessary to override a filibuster, and thus die.
In his words:
That’s a big win for public option advocates. If they get something in during negotiations, opponents will need to muster 60 votes to remove it on the floor. If the public option has the 52 supporters that Sen. Tom Harkin estimates, then that’s impossible.
Unfortunately, the entry ends with that revelation – Klein does not question why a compromise must be struck if the public plan already has 52 supporters. The answer points to a persistent feature of our modern politics: the filibuster. Unheard-of in the 19th century, and still quite rare by 1940, the use (and threat of) “talking a bill to death” has overshadowed nearly all of our legislation since. No longer is it sufficient, as prescribed by the Constitution, to have a simple majority in Congress. Now one requires a “filibuster-proof” majority (in our scheme, 60%) to pass any significant legislation.
In practice this development has acted largely to the detriment of the public interest – most famously in the case of Strom Thurmond’s filibuster of the Civil Rights Bill of 1957. With regards to a healthcare public option, the threats of a filibuster will doubtlessly cause the Senate to act directly against public opinion. The “filibuster-proof” requirement also places undue influence on specific members of the Senate. All eyes are now upon Olympia Snowe of Maine, who holds the swing vote and can literally dictate her own terms on the final bill.
The tragedy in this is that our elected officials have not even the pretense anymore of acting in the interests of the public they serve. It is clear, according to nearly every polling agency, that a majority of Americans support a non-profit publicly owned health provider. It is also clear, from every analyst not directly in the pay of the insurance or pharmaceutical lobbies, that a public health plan would significantly drive down costs. Yet these facts hold no weight in our Senate.
Which I would put forth as rather dismal news for supporters of the public plan.