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Public Option Down, But Not Necessarily Out

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For people on the sidelines of yesterday's health care showdown in the Senate Finance Committee, the biggest stunner wasn't the defeat of the public option--but the fact that it died in this Committee under friendly fire. With help from five key Democrats, the Republicans finally put liberals on the run in the first two major offensives in the fight over government-controlled health care. Senator Jay Rockefeller's (D-W.Va.) amendment, which would have added a strong public health insurance option to the exchange, fell first, beat back by his own Democratic colleagues Senators Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Ben Nelson (D-Nebr.), and Thomas Carper (D-Del.). Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) tried next with an amendment that was a watered down version of the public plan. His proposal also failed, but unlike Rockefeller's amendment, Schumer's measure did have the backing Senators Carper and Nelson.

Despite the victories yesterday, it would be premature to eulogize the public option just yet. While the plan may be dead in the Senate Finance Committee, it's still very much alive among the Democratic leadership. As plenty of people have pointed out, both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have promised to inject the public option in any final bill.

With the focus temporarily off of the public option, the Senate Finance Committee continued its final mark-up today with votes on FRC's key issues like health care rationing, conscience rights, and abortion. Unfortunately, all the pro-family amendments offered today failed, further guaranteeing taxpayer funding of abortion and health care rationing will be included in the final version.

As Congress deliberates, voters are getting increasingly anxious over another aspect of the President's plan--a mandate that threatens to throw Americans in jail who don't have a government-defined health care plan. (Of course, the irony is that everyone in prison gets free health care!) The Joint Committee on Taxation confirmed this last week when its Chief of Staff, Tom Barthold, sent Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) a hand-written note, which said, "Violators could be charged with a misdemeanor and could face up to a year in jail or a $25,000 fine." Sen. Ensign was quick to argue that the Constitution doesn't give the government the power to mandate the purchase of insurance. Still, this President has given every indication that he will not be content until he not only regulates health care--but the lives of the patients too.


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