Will the Public Option Surge Hit The Bipartisan Summit?

Bill Scher

The Huffington Post headline states “Public Option Support Surging In Senate” after 18 Senators, with more possible to come, signed a letter calling for the choice of a public health insurance plan to be included in the final health care bill.

Now, a surge is not a victory. It takes far more than 18 Senators to win passage, even using the simple majority budget reconciliation strategy. But the boomlet is a reminder that the public option has consistently remained an easily understood, popular provision among all the complexity of the health care debate.

Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Democracy for America and Credo have taken the lead in rallying the grassroots to push their Senators to sign the public option letter.

Absolutely, everyone should respond to that call.

But the public option has frustratingly been one of those issues where lots of signatures and strong poll numbers were enough to take the issue right up to the finish line, but not enough to fully overcome special interest pressure and risk-averse politicians in a broken Senate.

Grassroots pressure is necessary, but not sufficient. We also need a dramatic moment to shake up the media coverage, and reassure skittish Senators that the public option is the substantively and politically smart path.

Fortunately, we have an opportunity for such a moment next week: at the bipartisan health care summit.

So far, none of Senators attending the summit have signed the letter, though several have been nominal public option supporters.

But all the Democratic House members that will be there actually voted for legislation that includes a public option.

Surely, someone in attendance could provoke a memorable exchange that would expose the emptiness of the attacks against the public option. Someone should be able to publicly shame all those who claim to be deficit hawks for turning their backs on the best prospect for cost savings, in as dramatic a way as the President shamed House Republicans for their baseless talking points.

If the public option is to be resurrected, we will need that moment.

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