Ryan Grim of the Huffington Post reveals in an interview with Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin that there is some shift in the Blue Dog opposition to the public option in health-care reform.
The Blue Dogs have been surveying their membership over the last several days; coalition co-chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.) has been collecting the responses. She listed the four top priorities that have emerged: Keeping the cost under $900 billion, not moving at a faster pace than the Senate, getting a 20-year cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office and addressing regional disparities in Medicare reimbursement rates.
So, the Huffington Post asked, the public option is not a top priority?
"Right, the group is somewhat split," she said.
That leaves the Senate and the conference committee between the two chambers as the final battlegrounds for the public option. While several Senate Democrats have said they oppose it, no Senate Democrat has yet said publicly that he or she would oppose any bill that included a public option.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was the catalyst for the Blue Dog self-reflection when she floated the idea that roughly 20 Blue Dogs could support a public option.
"There was some suggestion that there were 20," Herseth Sandlin said. "There clearly are not. From the numbers that I have seen, although not everyone has submitted the surveys, even if they had and they all said yes it wouldn't be 20. Right now it's less than a dozen."
What about a public option not tied to Medicare rates?
"We haven't drilled down on that. I understand the media's focus on the public option, but for the Blue Dogs right now it's much more on cost," she said.
The lack of concerted, ideological opposition to a public option opens the possibility for negotiations in the House. Blue Dogs, along with other rural lawmakers, very much want an increase in Medicare reimbursement rates in certain areas to fix what they see as a disparity.