And now the key question is emerging — so get ready to hear it often in coming days: does Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid have the votes to pass the opt-out public option in the health reform care battle? Or does his announcement portend an ugly mega-partisan battle that could end with the passage of something less with national partisan polarization lines more starkly drawn than ever? Is it a trap for the GOP? Or a mistake for the Democrats?
The Christian Science Monitor has a good take on the central question:
A public option in healthcare may be OK with Senate majority leader Harry Reid. But it has yet to pass muster with a more important audience: the full Senate itself.
Senator Reid announced Monday that he will send to the Senate floor a healthcare-reform bill that includes the option government-run insurance plan – though states could opt out if they wished. Yet all indications are that the Nevada Democrat remains just short of the crucial threshold of 60 votes needed to defeat a likely Republican filibuster.
The Monitor notes that Reid seems to express guarded optimism but adds:
The reality is that a number of different versions of a public option may come up for a vote during full Senate debate on a healthcare reform bill.
Under the version backed Monday by Reid, states would have a year following the 2013 phase-in of the new healthcare plan to decide whether to opt out of the public option.
That opt-out clause might soften the opposition to the public option among some conservative Democrats, such as Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. But as it stands now, Reid’s version of the public option likely has lost the vote of Sen. Olympia Snowe (R) of Maine.
Senator Snowe voted to approve the Senate Finance Committee health reform bill, which did not contain a public option. Instead, it contained a provision, suggested by Snowe, that would trigger a public option if private insurance firms did not hit certain cost-containment goals.
“I would not be surprised one bit if Reid has to reverse course over the next few days and reintroduce the plan with a ‘Snowe-trigger’ rather than the ‘Reid opt-out,’ ” says Jordan Sekulow, a political analyst and director of international operations at the American Center for Law and Justice. “Neither liberals nor conservatives seem pleased with Reid’s proposal.”
So what is political reality?
Most likely not the initial reaction of new and old media pundits at this given moment. The way the 21st century news cycle now operates is that there’s a development and then instant analysis far more instant than what was called instant analysis 10 years ago. That leaves a lot of room for analysis based on the writer’s personal wishes for or against something. The true picture will emerge in coming days as more reporting comes out.
The White House reaction so far is twofold: the public reaction and an unnamed official’s less positive reaction:
CNN reports that White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in a written statement that President Obama is “pleased that the Senate has decided to include a public option for health coverage.” CNN also reports: “An administration official went so far as to call Reid’s move ‘dangerous’ but quickly followed by saying Reid knows his caucus better than anyone and will therefore have the support of the White House.”
It’s unclear why Reid decided on this model, over an opt-in model or a trigger, for example. It probably has something to do with pressure from the likes of Chuck Schumer, and assurances from folks like Jay Rockerfeller that liberals would support him. Reid also said at his press conference this afternoon that he has the backing of the White House, quashing rumors (for now….) that the Administration prefers a trigger option. But there are a few key people who don’t appear to support the idea. First and foremost, Olympia Snowe, who’s had almost unparalleled influence of the Senate bill so far. Without her, Reid needs every single one of his 60 votes and it’s far from certain that Blanche Lincoln or Ben Nelson would support it.
With that in mind, it’s possible that today’s announcement is a negotiating strategy. He may just be anchoring high as a ploy: if it looks like he doesn’t have the numbers to get cloture on a bill that includes the opt-out public option, he could shift to a trigger model, for example. That’s a more palatable shift for liberals than starting from a trigger and moving to no public option at all, and it signals to moderates that he’s serious about having some form of public plan in the final bill.
According to The Politico, Reid decided that he’d roll the dice, White House approval or not:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid dismissed White House worries — and bucked his own reputation as a cautious lawmaker — by announcing Monday he’ll push ahead with a public health insurance option, even though he’s short of the 60 votes needed to pass it.
The move amounted to a major gamble by the Nevada Democrat, who is betting that he can sway the last few moderates onto his plan for a public option that would allow states to opt out by 2014.
But at the same time, Democratic Senate aides expressed worries that Reid was going too far, too fast with a strategy that allows no room for error.
And Reid’s move Monday seemed at odds with President Barack Obama, who has expressed a preference for pursuing a compromise that could win a filibuster-proof majority and some bipartisan support. But by all accounts, Reid has neither at this point.
Taken together, all of this could lead to some (tentative) conclusions:
1. The intense pressure by progressives, coupled by an upswing in polling support for the public option (a phrase now as gratingly irritating as “have a nice day”), has worked.
2. Reid clearly got vibes that he’d have a hard time with some key Congressional Democratic players unless he included this.
3. Predictions before he sat down in his White Office seat that Barack Obama would be at odds with his party’s progressive wing look more accurate with each passing day. The question remains whether he’ll stick to his own deliberative, incrementalist approach that seeks to build mid 20th century America’s long sought political goal of national consensus (at a time when consensus is a dirty word to some in both parties), or go along with his progressive wing…or battle it (most likely in an incremental way). The bigger question: whichever course he takes, how will it impact his presidency and short and long term success?
4. Talk months ago about the political smarts of the Democrats in Congress and the White House as strategical political planners now seem vastly overblown.
Indeed, in reading reports about Reid, pressures by progressive for the Democrats to eschew bipartisanship because it seems unattainable, conflicting signals from a White House that doesn’t seem to want to really give out a definitive signal, the true strategy of the Democrats in getting a health care reform bill passed seems to be this:
By the seat of our pants.
HERE’S A CROSS SECTION OF SOME OTHER OPINION:
—Marc Ambinder (as usual) gives one of the best stand-back-and-take-a-deep-breath-and-analyze takes:
With Sen. Harry Reid’s decision to ask the Congressional Budget Office to score a public option that states can choose to use, he’s betting against the prospect of any Democratic senator filibustering the end product of health care reforms. Reid decided not to submit a public option with a trigger mechanism — the approach favored by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), calculating instead that he would be able to enforce party solidarity on what will certainly be an epochal vote. In order to induce at least one of those Democrats, Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND), Reid said that the final Senate bill would include non-profit co-op experiments, but he did not provide details. Liberals will interpret Reid’s decision as evidence that their pressure worked. Indeed, Reid seemed to acknowledge that power of moderates was not nearly as acute as it had been — or that he thought it had been. He noted that, almost any way the data is sliced, Americans support a “public option” and understand what it would do.
It’s important to realize that Reid has also given himself a bargaining chip here. By going to the floor with a public option, he has something to trade away in order to get to 60 votes, if, for some reason, Democrats refuse to give him 60 votes on cloture.
Reid’s political situation is tough. In Nevada, voters seem tired of him; they don’t see him as a leader. Liberal activists have been apoplectic at what they believe is his inner need to be loved by everyone and his refusal to make tough decisions. Now he’s decided to put the onus on non-liberals like Mary Landrieu or Blanche Lincoln, and dare them to join Republicans in openly filibustering health reform. Landrieu says she opposes a government-run plan on principle.
The good news: Pressure on Reid from progressives when his poll numbers are flagging made him defy the White House. More importantly, he ratted them out to the press. Rahm thought he could continue to push for triggers in the background and satisfy the base by mouthing gibberish about “the President supports a public option” until it was too late. It didn’t work out so well.
The bad news: Having a state opt-out that will make corporatist Democrats happy is quite likely not to be “available nationwide from day one,” and thus does not meet the the definition of a “robust public option” by anyone’s terms.
Depending on how an opt-out was written, it could potentially disenfranchise large parts of the population…
They’re Going to Ram It Through…
Dems are ready to nationalize the health care industry.
First, it should be obvious by now that the majority of Americans support a public option in health care reform. The constituency for a trigger plan is limited to Olympia Snowe and the hosts and guests of Morning Joe (both literally and figuratively).
Second, while people have said many bad things about Harry Reid, I’m pretty sure no one’s ever accused him of being a legislative show horse. Or dramatic. He’s just not going to announce a base bill that he doesn’t reasonably expect will win 60 cloture votes. Can you imagine what a huge defeat that would look like? Reid can too.
Lastly, Reid definitively stated that a trigger bill wouldn’t get a CBO score – effectively taking it off the table as a legislative option. If you see someone float a hypothetical Senate whip count for a trigger plan, ignore it – it’s bogus.
You really don’t have the support of the White House if the White House is still running around blabbing to the media about how Harry Reid, and the public option’s inclusion, are “dangerous.” It yet again undercuts Senator Reid, and undercuts the public option. If the White House were serious about real health care reform, if they were serious about truly trying to keep the President’s promises, they would do something about the incessant leaks coming out of this White House trying to undermine real health care reform. Then again, leaks intended to damage fellow Democrats, but not Republicans, have become somewhat of a trademark of this White House.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.