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The return of the public option

<p>There&#039;s no shortage of chatter about deficit-reduction ideas in Washington, but there&#039;s very little consensus.</p>
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.)
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.)

There's no shortage of chatter about deficit-reduction ideas in Washington, but there's very little consensus. Republicans want to cut Medicare and Social Security, while slashing public investments, and Democrats disagree. Democrats, meanwhile, want to close tax loopholes and ask the wealthy to pay a little more, and Republican disagree.

But what about popular policies that reduce the deficit, without hurting seniors and without raising taxes? Sahil Kapur reports on a new/old Democratic idea.

House Democrats on Tuesday introduced the "Public Option Deficit Reduction Act," which would provide consumers the choice to opt into a government-run health insurance plan in the Obamacare exchanges.The bill, which almost certainly cannot pass in the Republican-controlled House, is a mostly symbolic effort meant to keep the public option alive as a policy prescription. It is sponsored by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), who is on the Energy &amp; Commerce health subcommittee, along with Energy &amp; Commerce Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) and 43 other lawmakers.

What does this have to do with the debt? Quite a bit, actually. The public option, according to the Congressional Budget Office, would save about $70 billion over the next decade, and Schakowsky believes the figure could reach $100 billion.

Indeed, why stop there? There are related Democratic policies that would also move the nation closer to a balanced budget.

The CBO estimates that passing the Dream Act would cut the deficit by about $2 billion over the next decade, while the CBO has also found that a cap-and-trade policy -- which Republicans helped create and supported as recently as 2008 -- would save about $20 billion over the next decade.

A billion here, a billion there -- pretty soon we're talking about real money.

Realistically, I know congressional Republicans will oppose measures like these, but the point is, if Washington wants to "get serious" about the nation's finances, and the GOP considers new revenue to be outrageous and offensive, there are popular, credible alternatives that warrant consideration.