The many lives of the public option
Nate Silver marvels that the public option isn't dead yet, and lists the five surprises that have brought us to this point. I'm a bit less confident than he is that the option isn't, for all intensive purposes, dead. There's been one surprise, I think, and that's been the effectiveness of the activist left at convincing the elected center-left that they'll face real anger if they appear to be abandoning the public option. But we haven't yet cleared the hurdle that led so many people to write the proposal's eulogy months ago.
Skeptics of the public option's political chances held that Olympia Snowe, Ben Nelson, Evan Bayh, Mary Landrieu, Blanche Lincoln, and one or two others would force a deal that killed the public option in all but name (the "trigger" falls into this category, as, arguably, does Carper's original idea to allow states to build their own public options). Harry Reid, for his part, did the thing you'd want to do whether or not the public option is going to pass: Put it to a vote before the Senate. If the moderates mean to kill it, they have to do so publicly. Reid, I think, realized something important: It's one thing for the left to be defeated on its top priority. It's another thing for it to be screwed. What Reid has done is ensure that it's not screwed.
In doing so, however, he also did the thing you'd want to do if you want the option to pass: He opened the moderates to tremendous pressure, and arguably isolated them. We're likely to see a vote in which 55 or more Senate Democrats vote for the public option, as do almost all House Democrats. You could imagine the provision being stripped from the Senate bill in order to clear the filibuster, but then what happens in conference, when the Senate has to reach some minimally acceptable compromise with the House?
When health-care reform is finished, there are going to be two books worth writing. The first is the book about the public option, which is also the book about the health-care reform fight that most of us watched. The second is the book about everything else, which, in part because of the consuming controversy around the public option, happened quietly and largely behind closed doors.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Susan Walsh.
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