PEEK

Lieberman "Irritated" By Toothless Trigger

The public option has basically been negotiated away. And Lieberman is still not satisfied.

LIEBERMAN ON 'IRRITANTS'.... Based on the general outline of the Team of Ten's compromise plan, there's a public-option trigger, but it's awfully tough to pull.

The idea is to rely on the OPM plan -- we'd have a national, non-profit health plan along the lines of the Federal Employee Health Benefits Plan, administered by the Office of Personnel Management, which oversees the plan for federal employees and has experience negotiating with private plans. The OPM would select non-profit plans that met government standards to participate, and they'd be available for state exchanges for consumers to select.

But what happens if insurers don't step up and the national non-profit plans don't materialize? That probably wouldn't happen, but if it does, then a public option would kick in.

So, the public option aspect of this has all been negotiated away, in exchange for other progressive goals. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), whose opposition has been based on an evolving, almost-fanatical hatred of public-private competition, has to be thrilled, right?

Wrong.

"I've told them that I can't support a trigger -- no, actually, to be more explicit: If they say that it's unlikely to be [pulled] then it's unnecessary," Lieberman said. "It's an irritant. And I keep saying to my colleagues: the underlying bill, that I would say 60 of us in the caucus support, that is, the parts that we support in the underlying bill, are so full of progress -- let's get that done, and stop trying to squeeze in things that some of us, respectfully, just won't accept."

The trigger being considered would be pulled, according to a Senate aide briefed on the compromise, if private health insurers, managed by the federal government, do not offer nation-wide non-profit plans starting in 2014. If pulled, it would create a national public option. The measure was added to the agreement at the last moment at the insistence of Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI). But it may still prove an obstacle to passage of the health care bill.

 

Steve Benen is "blogger in chief" of the popular Washington Monthly online blog, Political Animal. His background includes publishing The Carpetbagger Report, and writing for a variety of publications, including Talking Points Memo, The American Prospect, the Huffington Post, and The Guardian. He has also appeared on NPR's "Talk of the Nation," MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow Show," Air America Radio's "Sam Seder Show," and XM Radio's "POTUS '08."
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