There are 60 members of the Senate's Democratic caucus -- so why is Sen. Kent Conrad insisting that that there aren't enough votes to pass a public health insurance option as part of comprehensive reform bill?
"The fact of the matter is there are not the votes in the United States Senate for the public option, there never have been, so to continue to chase that rabbit is just a wasted effort," Conrad said on Fox News Sunday.
Conrad, a Democrat from North Dakota (pop. 641,481), is presumably assuming that a bill containing a public option would need 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. But even if that is the case, not a single member of the Democratic caucus -- including Conrad himself -- has actually announced that he or she would support such a filibuster. And a few Republicans -- Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine -- might not support it either.
"Senator Conrad should leave the vote counting to the leadership," a peeved Democratic leadership aide told the Huffington Post.
Conrad, the Budget Committee chairman, is also a key Finance Committee member, and is one of the bipartisan "Gang of Six" that has taken on the role of lead health care negotiators.
One thing to keep in mind is that there may not be a separate vote on the public option; it could simply come down to an up or down vote on the entire bill, with the public option included. For instance, even if the Finance Committee bill doesn't include a public option, the Democratic leadership, when it combines the bill with the health committee version, could include it. Another outside possibility is that senators could be faced with a bill coming out of conference committee that includes the public option, even if their chamber didn't vote for it initially.
Conrad, somewhat morbidly, appears to be assuming in his whip count that two members of the caucus, Sens. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Bob Byrd (D-W.Va.), will be too ill to vote. Conrad has previously noted to reporters that both may not be able to vote because of health concerns.
Byrd, however, made it to several votes just before recess. And health care reform is the defining policy and political goal of Kennedy's life. If both showed up, someone from the Democratic caucus would have to break ranks to kill the public option. Who would do it?
Even Conrad himself is not a definite no. His spokesman said he has yet to take a personal position on the public option.
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