8 a.m. ET: The White House continued to insist Monday that "nothing has changed" in its position on health-care reform. But two things clearly have: 1) It was likely before, but now appears almost certain, that the public insurance option will be in the House bill, won't be in the Senate bill and won't be in the conference report; 2) Now everyone needs to figure out what exactly health-care co-ops are and whether they will work on a broad scale.
President Obama's move increased the odds that he will actually get something passed, at least in the Senate. In the House, many Democrats -- particularly members of the Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus -- vowed that a bill would not pass their chamber without the public option. But Obama doesn't have to convince House liberals to accept half-a-loaf now. There's no talk at this point of dropping the public option from the House bill, only that it won't survive conference negotiations later this year.
If the final bill doesn't include a public plan, it likely will include health-insurance co-ops, and idea propagated by Kent Conrad that currently doesn't have many fans among either Democrats or Republicans. "As the situation stands, there's no existing model for co-ops to follow and no policy specifics on Conrad's idea, so it's impossible to say whether, or how, they will work," Ezra Klein explains. But the "idea works if it somehow solves the political problem that birthed it." BusinessWeek says Conrad's model "has been tested only on a small scale and is a questionable vehicle to generate real competition for huge health-insurance corporations." But Conrad defended his plan Monday, the Wall Street Journal writes, saying that Senate negotiators are convinced the co-op idea can work.
What part is Vice President Biden playing in health-care talks? Despite his frequent verbal gaffes, the Los Angeles Times writes in a lengthy profile this morning, "Biden appears to be solidifying his relationship with his boss and accumulating more assignments central to the administration's agenda," including an unspecified "bigger role" on health care. (Also note that the story a) has Valerie Jarrett calling Biden's gaffes "endearing"; and b) has a Biden aide speculating that the "incredibly fit, vigorous" vice president might run for president in 2016 at age 73.) Biden has kept a relatively low profile in recent weeks but is scheduled to give a speech Wednesday in Orlando on the stimulus bill.
Republicans, meanwhile, are irritated that some stakeholders in the health-care industry have decided to cut deals with the Obama administration. John Boehner wrote a letter to PhRMA head Billy Tauzin Monday complaining that the drug-industry lobby should not engage in "appeasement" by negotiating with the White House. "When a bully asks for your lunch money, you may have no choice but to fork it over," Boehner wrote. "But cutting a deal with the bully is a different story, particularly if the ‘deal’ means helping him steal others’ money as the price of protecting your own."
Dropping the public option may well smooth passage for health-care reform in the Senate. But when? What's the deadline in that chamber? It's not clear that the Gang of Six is really any closer to agreement now, particularly since Chuck Grassley says he won't vote for a bill -- even if he personally likes it -- unless more Republicans support it. Hey, if the Nationals and Stephen Strasburg can cut a deal two minutes before their deadline, maybe such a cutoff would be useful for the Finance Committtee too. Someone get Scott Boras on the phone.
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