Woolsey: Obama Will Support Public Option If Votes Are There

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With some 36 Senators (and counting) now signed on to support the public option, Rep. Lynn Woolsey, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, expressed cautious optimism about the proposal passing through reconciliation. “I’m not sure that the public option is dead at this point,” Woolsey told Mother Jones on Thursday, adding that support for government-run health care plan in the Senate keeps “growing and growing.”

Woolsey, along with other members of key House committees, met with Obama on Thursday and pressed the issue with the president. “The president doesn’t believe there are 51 votes in the Senate, but if there [are], he’ll support it,” she said. The Progressive Caucus has been actively lobbying the upper chamber to include the provision in the package of reconciliation changes to the comprehensive bill, which has already passed the Senate and is pending a vote in the House.

Whether or not the public option makes it into the final legislation, Woolsey emphasized that House progressives would generally support the bill. “We’re pretty together as a caucus,” Woolsey said. “The President laid out the broad outlines of the plan—I know that’s probably all that he could have gotten from the Senate.”

Only a day earlier, Raul Grijalva, the other co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, announced that he was “leaning no” on the bill due to lack of a public option and other concessions the Democratic leadership had made. But Grijalva himself seems to have relented after Thursday’s meeting with the President, saying that it was now likely that he and other House Progressives would back the bill.

While the Democrats were never in imminent danger of a mass defection of House liberals, reconciliation has certainly revived progressive legislators’ hopes for more robust reform, leading them to be more forceful about making such demands. But even if liberals managed to round up 51 votes for the public plan in the Senate, it’s still a long shot for the proposal to be passed through reconciliation, as it would have to be on the table before the House votes on the comprehensive bill. Though the previous reform bill that passed the House included a version of the public plan, the Democratic leadership could be wary off scaring moderate swing-votes, given their current struggle to round up the votes.

But even if the public plan doesn’t make it into the current bill, Woolsey suggested that she’d be interested in passing the proposal separately—an idea that Senator Sherrod Brown recently floated. “Somewhere along the way, it’s going to be absolutely necessary to have competition” that the public option would provide, Woolsey said. “Health care reform, as big as it is, is not a final product.”

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