Why No One Pulls Triggers
Kevin Drum notes that trigger ideas pop up fairly often as compromise proposals but never quite seem to make it into the final legislation:
Alan Greenspan and Paul O'Neill tried to sell the idea of a trigger for the 2001 tax cuts, but nobody bought it. The Baker Commission basically proposed triggers for withdrawing from Iraq, but that turned out to be DOA. And here in California, when higher car registration fees got automatically triggered by a growing budget deficit, it caused such hysteria that we ended up tossing out our governor and electing an action star in his place. Didn't work out so well.
There was a trigger option in Medicare Part D, to be sure. But in general, Drum is right. The reason is that substantive debates about legislation are a bit of a farce. The concept of a trigger for the public option is actually pretty savvy if the two sides were fighting over the empirical question of "can the health insurance industry control costs and increase competition in a constructive fashion?" If conservatives are right that a restructured market would compel insurers to cut costs and increase competition and generally clean up their behavior, then that's good enough. But if liberals are proven right that a handful of new regulations isn't sufficient to create a working insurance market, then the public option would "trigger" into existence and we'd give that solution a try.
The problem is that there's no real constituency for that compromise: Liberals want a public plan because they want a public plan. Conservatives don't want a public plan because they don't want a public plan. Moreover, conservatives don't just oppose the public plan, but most of them actually oppose passage of a bill. The number of additional votes you can get by making substantive concessions is thus much smaller than the number of additional votes you could get if substantive concessions were actually the sticking point.
Now, it's possible that Olympia Snowe's position is powerful enough that she can be a constituency of one, and that'll be sufficient. But that's because her role in the debate is different than everybody else's, and she's actually interested in substantive compromises. But the compromise, then, is with the Snowe Party, not the Republican Party, or conservatives.
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