Harold Pollack at the New Republic blog The Treatment has an interesting comparative historical analysis of the current push to include the “public option” in the health bill via reconciliation and a famous vote in 1956 on a House bill to extend federal aid to states to build schools:
The bill would have provided federal aid to the states to build schools. Democrats sponsored the bill, which was popular ten years into the baby boom. For familiar pre-election reasons, Republicans wanted HR7535 to die. They got lucky when Harlem Congressman Adam Clayton Powell dropped a hand grenade into the process by proposed an amendment mandating that grants could only be used by states with schools “open to all children without regard to race in conformity with the requirements of the United States Supreme Court decisions.” Urban liberals could hardly oppose this amendment. Yet its inclusion would doom the final bill by driving away critical southern Democratic votes.
The inclusion of the Powell amendment killed the whole bill. Pollack thinks that the inclusion of the public option would kill the health bill and hence Rockefeller and Obama do not want it included in the reconciliation process. There are many theories for why Powell offered his amendment. He could see that it would cause the collapse of the bill. In the process, it would reveal the hypocrisy of the Democratic leadership of the House and that, to him, was a greater goal than building more schools in the short run. There is no greater goal, like civil rights, at stake in the current health reform so Pollack has a point in suggesting the progressives’ strategy is short-sighted not far-sighted.