Thursday, September 24, 2009

Blue Dog Jane Harman On Supporting The Pubic Option, "I'm Not Going To Cave"

The Blue Dog and Progressive Caucus are finishing up dueling "whip-counts" this week to find out definitively how their respective memberships stand on the public option.

The count comes in advance of a critical House Democratic caucus meeting Thursday morning in the Capitol, where leadership will take their own whip count. The fate of the public option in the House will be largely determined by the parallel whip efforts -- and how aggressive each bloc is in pushing for its priorities. In other words, it comes down to which pack wants it more, the Blue Dogs or the progressives.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has insisted that a bill without a public option wouldn't have the votes to pass because her more progressive members would oppose. Her top lieutenant, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), has long been closer to the Blue Dogs and took a different position, saying that the public option may have to be scuttled to get a package through the House.

Blue Dogs were alarmed when Pelosi said that a sizable number of their crew in fact back a public option. So they resolved to find out.....

One Blue Dog they can't count on is Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.).

"I'm for a robust public option and I filled out my survey to say I was," Harman told the Huffington Post.....

"It is beyond me, when they're the ones that are all about cost savings, that they don't get that the more robust the public option, based on an established rate system like Medicare, the more we save," said CPC Co-Chair Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.).

That argument resonates with Harman, who said that a "number" of other Blue Dogs agree with her. The lack of forceful opposition to the public option from Blue Dogs can be explained: The idea has polled well in Blue Dog districts and the coalition has pushed for more spending on rural hospitals. Including a public option is one way to pay for that.

"I see it as a market-forcing mechanism to keep costs down. I think it will correct what is presently a market failure, where in some states there's only one insurance option," Harman said. "So if I'm right, a robust public option -- if I'm right -- fulfills the core Blue Dog mission, which is fiscal discipline."

After being told that Woolsey wanted to speak with her when the interview was over, Harman ventured: "She wants to make sure I'm not going to cave."

She walked over to Woolsey, put her hand on her shoulder, and looked her in the eye. "I'm not going to cave," Harman told her.

It was that kind of support, Woolsey responded, that would carry the public option through.

But it all comes down to numbers. "I just don't believe that there are 218 Democratic votes in the House for any bill,"Blue Dog Rep. Allen Boyd (D-Fla.) "That means you've gotta have some votes from the other side."

Not necessarily. With 256 Democrats, Pelosi could lose 38 Blue Dogs and still pass a bill without the GOP.

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