Jonathan Chait

The Return Of the Public Plan

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Liberals did not get a public option in the Affordable Care Act. But that doesn't mean they never can. Indeed, they're introducing one already:

At a time when both political parties are worrying about the federal deficit, an unexpected and unorthodox proposal is coming back from the shadows of last year's health-care debate the "public option." The idea of creating a major government health insurance program was roundly rejected last year, but the 128 House Democrats pushing to reconsider the idea are now advancing the argument that it would help hold down federal spending.

Their bill, which faces long odds, would allow Americans who do not get insurance at work to choose a government plan for their health coverage starting in 2014.

"There is all this concern about the deficit," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., a leading champion of the proposal. "Well, guess what, this would reduce the deficit because it saves so much money." Woolsey and her allies, including Reps. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois and Fortney "Pete" Stark of California, are armed with a new analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. It projects the public option could save the federal government $68 billion between 2014 an 2020, according to Democrats.

Jonathan Bernstein has been making this case for a while. If liberals continue to organize around the idea, they can make it a part of party doctrine and secure pledges to support it from candidates for office. Democrats who oppose the public plan are going to have to come out and admit they oppose it, instead of hiding behind the opposition of others. It's a popular idea and eventually they should be able to get it enacted. "Eventually," of course, could be two or three decades.

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