It was a big weekend for the public option. Unfortunately, most of the work seemed to be behind the scenes, away from the cable news cameras. Words you'll never hear reported -- either on TV or online -- are "we have no idea what's going on." So the news cycle was dominated by speculation, leaks, and misinformation. Helpful it was not.
We found out that the White House was working to kill anything other than the "trigger" option, which in the short version is just pretending your including a public option. And then we found out they weren't. If you're dialing up this blog to find out what's going on with the public option and healthcare reform, I've got the skinny -- no one knows.
Be very wary of reports from unnamed "sources," because these sources are almost certainly putting out information and messaging they want repeated. When reading news or watching TV, think of "our sources say" as being synonymous with "rumor has it." It really may not mean much and, even in the best of circumstances, may only represent a step in the process, not the end of the process.
Still, there is some news that comes straight from the horse's mouth that give us some idea what the hell's going on in DC. For example, the new Charles Grassley seems to be Olympia Snowe. Healthcare reform is, after all, a big job and we can't rush things too much. "Well, Christmas might be too soon," Sen. Snowe said in an interview this weekend. "Well, you know, there's always that possibility. I know that's not what the president prefers."
So maybe next year. No big rush. Sure, a lack of health insurance kills about 123 people every day, but who cares about them? The important thing is that we don't rush through this like some sort of a crisis or something.
Lending some credibility to the trigger rumors was an New York Times piece on how well the public option was supposedly doing in Washington. In that piece, the paper quoted John McCain all but conceding defeat. "I think the Democrats have the votes, and in the House, Blue Dogs bark but never bite," McCain is quoted from an interview on Face the Nation. "So I don’t think they have a problem over in the House side. In the Senate I think the Democrats are very aware that they don’t want a repeat of the Clinton failure in 1994. So I think it’s very likely they will get something through. But it’s not clear to me what it is."
It's later in the piece that the trigger comes up:
In the Senate, Mr. Reid is considering several alternatives to his proposal for a national public insurance plan. Under one alternative, the public plan would be established, or triggered, only in states that failed to meet certain goals for insurance coverage.
Now that co-ops are a dead issue, the trigger wins the prize for Worst Compromise. And it's still on the table.
"To me that would be a very serious gap and it would be a very strong reason not to support it," said Russ Feingold, also on Face the Nation. "We need a public option. We need something that would cause some control over the abuses that have occurred in the insurance industry."
"[A trigger is] just an invitation for the insurance industry to manipulate the situation for a couple of years just so they can avoid the trigger and so they can convince members of Congress to delay it again," Feingold added. "We need to do something now."
"Feingold did not say (nor was he asked) if he would participate in a filibuster of a bill that included triggers instead of an opt-out public plan," Sam Stein writes. "And that seems likely to be the major question mark going forward. While conservative Democrats may be comfortable allowing the broader effort to pass health care reform fail over their objections to the public plan, it's not clear if their progressive counterparts will make that leap."
And, unlike the snail's pace that Olympia Snowe seems to believe is necessary, some Democrats are realizing that something has to happen now:
Democrats are pushing Senate leaders and the White House to speed up key benefits in the health reform bill to 2010, eager to give the party something to show taxpayers for their $900 billion investment in an election year.
The most significant changes to the health care system wouldn’t kick in until 2013 —- two election cycles away. With Republicans expected to make next year a referendum on health care reform, Democrats are quietly lobbying to push up the effective dates on popular programs, so they'll have something to run on in the congressional midterm elections.
Democrats are anxious to mix the good with the bad since some of the pain would be phased in early, including more than $100 billion in industry fees that critics say could be passed on to consumers.
OK, so the motivation here is mostly political. I always say that if someone wants to do the right thing for the wrong reason, you really shouldn't stop them. "Democratic strategists expect the 2010 election to present a stark contrast between the parties, particularly if the health care bill receives minimal Republicans support," Politico reports. "The front-load strategy could help blunt GOP attacks on the bill as a toxic mix of higher taxes, rising premiums and cuts to Medicare."
The danger again is the trigger. If Democrats are motivated by scoring points for 2010, then they can pass even a weak bill with questionable improvements over the current non-system and call it a victory. If success is defined as "a bill," rather than "a good bill," we could all wind up being screwed.
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