Emanuel Cleaver and Lacy Clay deserve respect and appreciation for their progressive stand on health care reform. The House Progressive Caucus, of which they are members, just sent a second letter to Obama reiterating their demand for a public option and their request for a meeting with the president. They sent a similar letter at the beginning of last week and were supposed to get a meeting with Obama before his Wednesday speech. Somehow, that meeting didn’t materialize, but the progressives are not backing down.

Skelton and Carnahan haven’t indicated that they’ll vote against a bill without a public option, but they’d be happy to vote for one that had it. There are lots of Dems like that in the House, but such reps don’t have the numbers to pass the bill by themselves. Pelosi is softening her insistence on the public option, but she cannot get a bill through the House if the Progressive Caucus holds fast. (Passing a bill requires 216 votes. Democrats have 256 members, 83 of them in the Progressive Caucus.)

Blue Dogs in the Senate create the opposite picture there. They’ll keep Ds from getting the sixty votes for a Senate bill with a public option. Our own Claire McCaskill might vote against such a bill–not that she has to worry, because the Senate simply wouldn’t produce such a bill.

Democrats who want the public option envision a couple of possible scenarios.

Here’s one: The progressives hang tight in the House and a bill with a strong public option is passed. In the Senate, the bill is either weak enough to draw Olympia Snowe in (with a trigger) or else Massachusetts gives the Dems their sixtieth senator. Either way, a weak bill is passed. The conference committee writes a final bill with a public option, and Massachusetts definitely gets a replacement for Kennedy to D.C. At that point, any Democratic senator who votes against the final bill is political toast, and we manage to pass a bill with a public option.

Here’s another possibility: The same scenario occurs in the House, but in the Senate, Democrats ram the final bill through with reconciliation. Howard Dean spoke on Sunday to that idea:

Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, reflecting the views of many liberals, on Sunday suggested that Democrats should abandon bipartisan health-care talks and go it alone with a bill that includes a public option.

“At the most, we’re going to get three Republicans senators and no Republicans in the House,” Mr. Dean said. He suggested Democrats should use a controversial legislative strategy known as reconciliation that would allow the Senate to approve a plan with 51 votes.

“Republicans and Democrats both ram things through,” Mr. Dean said, “At the end of the day, the American people want a health-care bill and they don’t care if it’s through reconciliation.”

The problem, though, is that reconciliation can only be used on budget bills, and the health care reform bill will have more in it than just budgetary matters. Those other matters would require the sixty votes, and the whole process would be messy.

Still, Harry Reid has indicated his willingness to use reconciliation and Dean likes that idea.

So reform with a public option could happen. We have to do our part this next month to back up the Democrats, and Cleaver and Clay in particular. If you’d like to get a yard sign and give Health Care for America Now (HCAN) some funds to work with, click here.

And call or write Clay and Cleaver to thank them heartily for standing firm.

As for Claire, we’ll have a lot more to say in the near future. She needs to hear from us till her staff begs for mercy.

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