In case you were wondering if Paul Kirk was going to follow his friends in the insurance industry … apparently not. He's in favor of the public option.
“Senator Kirk believes there should be a public option to keep costs down and keep insurance companies honest,” says his spokesman, Keith Maley. “[D]uring his short service in the United States Senate, he looks forward to seeing what can be done to reach that goal.”
His spokesman might choose to use more forceful language than “seeing what can be done to reach that goal”; but it's clear enough. I don't think this should be a surprise. Certainly Ted Kennedy supported it, and it was in all the plans from the Dem presidential candidates last year; and the Baucus framework of late last year, which TK very likely helped shape.
The tea leaves are hard to read on this, but it's worth noting that a.) public opinion is strongly in favor of the public-option — 65%!; b.) doctors support a public option; c.) The vast majority of Democrats support a public option; d.) certainly the vast majority of involved, active grassroots Democrats support a public option.
This explains the recent boldness on the part of Schumer, Rockefeller, and other Dems on its behalf. One might argue that the conservative Dems have the rest of them over a barrel, since health care can't pass without them (or without the apparently-considerable risk associated with the reconciliation move).
But one might also argue that it's the conservative Dems at risk, since if they vote against cloture (much less the bill itself) they'll be blamed for the failure of an otherwise achievable goal, and for going against widespread public opinion — for the purpose of defending insurance companies from competition.
And with that, they would:
- create a circular firing squad within the party,
- destroy relationships and “comity” within the Senate,
- completely obliterate the mutual-defense dynamic that keeps a party viable (think campaign $$$);
- outrage the activists, who write checks and make phone calls;
- kneecap a new Democratic presidency at its outset;
- oh, and by the way, prevent millions from getting health coverage.
Again, all for the purpose of defending health insurers — not the most popular lot these days.
It's hard to see that as a strong position for Conrad, Nelson, Baucus, et al. They've still got a lot to lose from Democratic implosion, and a lot to gain from the Dems continuing to flex muscle. Think of them as holding a bridge hand with a doubleton king-jack. Good cards, but they can be finessed.
So the question may well move from “Will the many liberal Democrats vote for a bill without a public option?” to “Will a few conservative Democrats vote for a bill with a public option?” Again, the argument moves to our ground.