New Legislation Might Guarantee a Public Option

Shailagh Murray and Lori Montgomery have a damn good roundup in the Washington Post of the state of play for health care reform on the eve of the big vote in the Senate Finance Committee. If you don't feel like you have a good grasp of the various issues and shifting winds, I recommend giving it a careful read. There's not much to complain about in their report.

There are two important tidbits to focus on.

First, on Harry Reid and the public option:

The measure does not mandate that businesses provide coverage to their workers. Committee members defeated two versions of a government insurance option. And the bill would tax high-value policies that, to the dismay of many liberal lawmakers, could affect some union households.

Senior Democrats, including Sens. John F. Kerry (Mass.) and Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), both liberal members of the finance panel, are urging Reid to address these perceived shortcomings before the merged bill reaches the Senate floor. But Reid has told colleagues that he is reluctant to produce a measure that proves too divisive within his caucus. Regarding a government-funded, or public, insurance option, in particular, he has said he wants proof that a provision would attract broad support within the party before it is included. Otherwise, senators would be free to offer changes as amendments on the Senate floor.

Second, on Tom Carper and the opt-in or opt-out alternatives:

One proposal attracting considerable attention originated with Sen. Thomas R. Carper (Del.) and would allow states to decide whether to create their own insurance plans or join forces to provide coverage in collaboration with neighboring states. Other Democrats want to take the state-based approach a step further, creating a national public plan that states could join. Carper, a moderate Democrat, said he is not sure he is prepared to go that far. "I'm just chewing on that one," he said.

Sen. Evan Bayh (Ind.), a moderate Democrat, was bullish on the Carper approach. "I think something like that is likely, and would probably pass muster with moderates," he said. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who opposes a public option, said he likes Carper's idea. "I think the states, as laboratories of democracy, probably can find ways to deal with this, and if they do make a mistake it's a smaller mistake to correct than at the federal level," Nelson said.

It looks like nothing is decided yet. Tom Carper, Evan Bayh, and Ben Nelson are trying to kill a public option by letting states set up their own state-run or regional insurance systems. But Schumer is pushing a different idea where states would be eligible for the public option by default, but could opt-out of it in favor of Carper's approach if their legislatures or governors or a plebiscite ratifies the idea. I believe this is Schumer's attempt to prove to Reid that he can get 60 votes for cloture for a public option. Carper says he is "chewing on" it. That signals weakness to me. I think we're going to get this done. And I haven't thought it would be possible all year up until this past week.


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