By Tom Curry National affairs writer
updated 9/8/2009 10:33:43 AM ET 2009-09-08T14:33:43

Claim: Without the votes of the Democrats who support the public option, the House health insurance bill cannot pass.

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The 83-member Progressive Caucus, which speaks for left-of-center Democrats, told President Obama last week, "We cannot vote for anything less" than a health insurance bill which includes a public option, a federally run insurance plan similar to Medicare. The progressives see the public option as the only way to curb the power of private insurance firms.

Is it fact or fiction? Fact. If Progressive Caucus members keep their pledge and vote “no” on a bill lacking a public option, they would scuttle the bill, (assuming almost all Republicans also vote “no.”)

Will the progressives hold firm? "We've got 60 members who will not vote for a plan without a public option," said Progressive leader Rep. Keith Ellison, D- Minn. The math is 257 total Democrats minus 60 equals 197. The number needed for passage is 218.

The Blue Dogs are opposed: The 52-member Blue Dog caucus, a group of fiscally cautious Democrats, opposes a “Medicare-like” public option. “Using Medicare’s below-market rates would seriously weaken the financial stability of our local hospitals and doctors,” they told Speaker Nancy Pelosi. If most Blue Dogs voted against the bill, it would be defeated.

Pelosi’s choice: Pelosi herself said last week, "A bill without a strong public option will not pass the House," but if it is in the bill, she risks losing the Blue Dogs, and if it isn’t in the bill she risks losing the progressives. Can she mollify each?

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