Naturally, the attention of health care reform observers (and who isn't one these days?) is focused on the action in the Senate Finance Committee right now. But an equally important drama is playing out in the House Democratic Caucus.
As Ryan Grim explains at HuffPo today, the Caucus is due to meet tomorrow to assess the views of Members before the House formally acts on the "tri-committee" proposal that's been cleared for the floor. And the big issue is the relative strength of those within the Congressional Progressive Caucus who have vowed to oppose any bill at any stage of the process that doesn't include a "robust public option," and those in the Blue Dog Coalition who don't much like the public option. Both groups are whipping their members, reports Grim:
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.
This isn't, it's important to understand, primarily about votes on the initial House legislation, particularly when it comes to the Progressive Caucus members. It's about what happens after the Senate finally enacts its own version of health reform. If Progressive Caucus members continue to stand behind the pledge that 60 of them have made to torpedo any conference committee report that junks a strong (or possibly, any) public option, that will have an effect not just on House conferees, but on the Senate Democratic strategy (i.e., whether to pursue the risky budget reconciliation approach to produce a more "liberal" bill). At the same time, it's clear that some Blue Dogs will vote for a House bill they don't like in anticipation that the conference commitee report will produce a weaker version of the public option, or some different mechanism like co-ops or a public option "trigger." If that's no longer a lively prospect, more of them could be lost on the initial vote.
With House Republicans almost certain to oppose any legislation en masse, it's all about what 218 House Democrats can be mustered to support now and later. So even among senators, what happens in the House tomorrow will be fateful.
Ed Kilgore is Managing Editor of The Democratic Strategist, and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute