Uncompromising Compromises on the Public Option

Lori Montgomery and Shailagh Murray write in the Washington Post:

House Democrats are coalescing around an $871 billion health-care package that would create a government-run insurance plan to help millions of Americans afford coverage, raise taxes on the nation’s richest families and impose an array of new regulations on private insurers, in part by stripping the industry of its long-standing exemption from federal antitrust laws.

Senate Democratic leaders, meanwhile, huddled with President Obama on Thursday, and lawmakers said Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) was increasingly leaning toward the idea of including a version of a public insurance option, albeit one that would allow states to opt out of such a system, in the chamber’s bill.

This sounds like great news, but as I read other stories this morning the air spluttered out of the balloon, so to speak.

Some reports are saying the House mostly seems ready, or close to ready, to pass a good bill. However, Mike Allen of The Politico says Pelosi doesn’t have the vote for a robust public option and is considering the “trigger” compromise as “the most likely compromise because it can probably satisfy liberals.”

Memo to Allen, Pelosi, et al. It will not satisfy liberals. We know a bait and switch when we see one. A public option subject to a “trigger” amounts to no public option at all, because the “trigger” will never be pulled without a bruising political fight.

For a rundown on the three compromises being proposed at the moment, see Ezra Klein. And then for the odds on which compromise will be accepted, see Nate Silver. If you go by Nate, Congress may pass something it can call a “public option,” but it won’t be what we want.

Matters are even more iffy in the Senate than in the House, as insurance industry lackeys like Olympia Snowe and Ben Nelson still refuse to support any bill with a public option, even with the state opt-out provision.

Robert Pear and David Herszenhorn write in the New York Times,

In pushing to include a government-run health insurance plan in the health care bill, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, is taking a calculated gamble that the 60 members of his caucus could support the plan if it included a way for states to opt out. … Mr. Reid’s outlook was shaped, in part, by opinion polls showing public support for a government insurance plan, which would compete with private insurers.

People watch Washington in wonder. A provision with huge public support is considered “risky” in Washington. We know why that’s true, but it still makes the Senate look like a cheap carnival sideshow.

4 thoughts on “Uncompromising Compromises on the Public Option

  1. Pingback: Reading the Tea Leaves: All About Conference | Below The Fold

  2. Over at DailyKos, they’re a little more optimistic. Jed Lewiston has a post up captioned: Jarrett on Pres. Obama: “He’s committed to the public option”

    Jed goes on to say:

    Earlier this morning on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, White House Sr. Adviser Valerie Jarrett offered a strong defense not only of the public option, but also of President Obama’s commitment to it. (Update: Importantly, Jarrett rejected Joe Scarborough’s suggestion that President Obama is pushing for the so-called “trigger.”)


    JOE SCARBOROUGH: Hey, Valerie, we had Mike Allen from Politico on earlier this morning, he said Nancy Pelosi didn’t have the votes for a public option and said that there was some suggestion that the President wants a health care reform bill that doesn’t have a public option, but has a trigger in case the insurance companies don’t start playing ball. Is that a fair description of the President’s current position?

    VALERIE JARRETT: No, I think the President has always said that he’s committed to the public option. Why? Because he thinks it will create competition and therefore bring down costs. He’s always said he’s open to new ideas, but at this late stage in the game, he still thinks it’s the best option. So I don’t know whether Mike Allen can actually count votes or not. A lot of people said President Obama didn’t have the votes to win, but he did. So we’ll see. He’s committed to it, he’s pushing for it, and he’s absolutely committed to delivering on health care reform this year.

    SCARBOROUGH: So, by the White House’s count, do you believe you have enough votes to pass a public option in the House and the Senate?

    JARRETT: You know, we’ll see. I think it’s too soon to tell. All I know is that we’re going to keep pushing until the very last moment. But I think it’s important to understand why. We want to bring down the costs. Joe, there’s some states, such as Maine or Alabama, where you only have a couple of insurers, and in those states, you see that the prices are going up. And so what we want to do, on behalf of the American people and our taxpayers, is to bring down those costs so that it’s more affordable. That’s what we think the public option will do.

    It doesn’t get much clearer than that. Jarrett not only defended and reaffirmed President Obama’s support for the public option, but said “we’re going to keep pushing until they very last moment” for it. In fact, those may be the strongest words yet from the White House during the end game. At least to my ears, they are very reassuring.

    It’s also worth noting that Scarborough mischaracterized Allen’s report, which didn’t claim that a public option was doomed in the House. Rather, Allen reported that the most robust version of the public option didn’t currently have the votes. However, TPMDC takes issue with Allen’s report, indicating that his sources may be trying to pressure Pelosi against the public option.

  3. UPDATE: On DailyKos again from Jed once more:

    The Huffington Post’s Sam Stein reports Harry Reid is just one or two senators away from securing the 60 votes he needs to defeat a Republican filibuster of a health care reform measure containing an opt-out public option. If Reid does manage to get 60 votes against a GOP filibuster, he’ll only need 50 votes to secure passage of the underlying bill, thanks to Vice President Joe Biden’s tie-breaking vote.

  4. The word “risky” in Washington-speak means “poses some marginal threat to the vested interests of the wealthy.”

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