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Will Democrats Filibuster the Public Plan, Or Just Oppose It?


In my interview with Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), he said the problem with the public plan could be summed up in one word: "votes." All Republicans, and "at least" three Democrats opposed the policy. In a 60-vote Senate, that makes the public plan unworkable. A compromise is needed.

Conrad, of course, has much more information on the current state of the votes than I do. But it's worth wondering whether we're in a 60-vote Senate for the public plan, or just for health-care reform. In particular, remember that the actual number of votes need to pass a bill is 50, not 60. The 60-vote threshold comes into play only when you're trying to break a filibuster. After you break the filibuster, you need only a simple majority.

Imagine a Senate of 60 Democrats and 40 Republicans. Imagine further that all Republicans, and five Democrats, are opposed to the public plan. But, importantly, none of the Democrats are willing to filibuster the full health-care reform bill because of their opposition to the public plan. Instead, they mean to oppose it through more traditional means: They will sponsor an amendment to strip it out of the final bill, and if that fails, they're willing to vote against the final bill.

In this world, 60 Democrats vote to successfully crack the filibuster. The amendment to strip the public plan from the legislation is defeated, 55 votes to 45 votes. And health-care reform -- with the public plan -- passes by the same margin.

The question, in other words, is not how many Democrats oppose the public plan. It's how many will filibuster the full health reform bill. And given that even Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) is saying he won't filibuster to stop the Republican plan, it'll be interesting to see whether we're really in a 60-vote environment for the public plan, or just for health reform.

(Photo credit: Richard A. Lipski - The Washington Post)

By Ezra Klein  |  June 12, 2009; 12:03 PM ET
Categories:  Health Reform  
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How is the potential for using the budget reconciliation process for health reform (including a public option) factor into the vote wrangling/filibustering? Do you think there is a possibility that supporters of a strong public option (Kennedy, Dodd) will begin to push for using reconciliation if Dems (Nelson, Bayh, etc.) make noises about filibustering and preventing a health reform bill with a public option from coming to the floor?

Posted by: dailykos2 | June 12, 2009 12:19 PM | Report abuse

There is always the "constitional" or "nuclear" option. Clearly unpopular but an option if you feel the health of millions of Americans is more important than a 40 year old senate rule.

Posted by: JonWa | June 12, 2009 12:23 PM | Report abuse

I amsoo glad you brought this up, Ezra. I have been wondering at the spectacle of Democrats (or even Repubs for that matter) pulling off a filibuster against health reform when it comes right down to doing it. What would it look like to see them standing up, hour after hour, denouncing or critiquing health reform while so many Americans are in such trouble over health care? I have always thought it was a "threat" without much teeth, particularly for Democrats. One way for Dems like Nelson to "save face" would be to oppose the public plan option but not filibuster the whole legislation. They get to say they voted against the public plan but don't have to explain to constituents why they stopped health reform. Can we hear more about this?

Posted by: LindaB1 | June 12, 2009 1:59 PM | Report abuse

I wonder why no one is covering that the progressive caucus just today said they will vote against health care reform if it contains the "conrad alternative." Does the media just think they are a bunch of liars?

Posted by: JonWa | June 12, 2009 2:45 PM | Report abuse

The more fundamental point seems to be that the Democrats are unwilling to pass a bill on a party-line vote. They want the veneer of bi-partisanship and are willing to sacrifice a strong public option to get it.
If that's the case, the scenario you outline is irrelevant.

Posted by: TXAndy | June 12, 2009 2:57 PM | Report abuse

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