8 a.m. ET: What is Harry Reid thinking?
Even in normal times, it's a common question, as the Majority Leader's ability to schedule bills on the Senate floor puts him at the fulcrum of every major legislative fight in Washington. And these aren't normal times, with the health-care debate concentrating an enormous amount of attention on the decisions being made inside his suite on the second floor of the Capitol. Reid's announcement Monday that he will include a public insurance option in the Senate health-care bill, a switch from where the Nevadan seemed to stand just a few weeks ago, sparked a host of theories on what really motivated his move:
It's about Nevada. This is the easy play -- of course it's about Nevada. Reid has a genuinely tough reelection fight in 2010, and every thing he does over the next year must be seen through that prism. Without the strong backing of unions and Democratic activists that helped President Obama win the state in 2008, Reid can't win. Dana Milbank writes: "As Democratic aides described it, the moment had less to do with health-care policy than with Nevada politics -- and one vulnerable senator's justifiable fear of liberal anger." The New York Times reports that "Reid's decision was acclaimed by liberal organizations like MoveOn, Families USA and Health Care for America Now." The Las Vegas Sun portrays Reid's move as a shrewd one, noting a Research 2000 poll that found 54 percent of Nevadans support a public option (described as "something like the Medicare coverage that people 65 and older get.") The same survey put Reid's favorable rating at just 35 percent and had him trailing both major GOP opponents, a reminder that the incumbent had to do something to change the dynamics of the race.
It's a trick. Amid the surprise at Reid's announcement Monday, several observers paused to note that the math didn't seem to work. Why would Reid choose an option opposed by Olympia Snowe and every other Republican? How can he possibly get 60 votes? Jonathan Cohn reminds that, as of late summer, "the public option looked doomed. It was going to take sixty votes to get a public option through the Senate. The votes just weren't there. To be clear, they still aren't there." Because he's at least a few votes short, Cohn adds, "The smart aleck take is that Reid is doing primarily to quiet down the left -- to prove, to liberal activists and more liberal members of his caucus, that he's listening to them and that they have influence." So when the bill doesn't get 60 votes, Reid can tell the left that he really did try, then cut a deal for Snowe's trigger plan or some other compromise.
It's about the centrists. Another school of thought holds that even if Reid doesn't have the votes today, he will have them when the bill hits the floor, either because moderate Democrats have already pledged to him they'll vote for cloture, or because they will crack under unrelenting pressure from their party (and the White House?). BusinessWeek passes along the first theory, writing that it's possible Ben Nelson and Blanche Lincoln have quietly promised Reid that they will vote for it, but won't say so publicly yet. Once they see the bill's final score from the CBO, and perhaps get a few promises on unrelated matters, they can come on board. Either way, the pressure has now shifted from Reid to the centrists. Marc Ambinder says Reid has "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."
As for the substance of Reid's proposal, which would allow states to opt-out of offering a public plan, the details are still being worked out. The Washington Post points out that "the opt-out proposal is so new to the reform debate that it was never put to a vote during weeks of deliberations by two Senate committees." Huffington Post reports that the idea "first came to his attention only three weeks ago," stemming from negotiations between Tom Carper and Chuck Schumer (and building on a suggestion months ago from Tom Daschle). Ezra Klein writes, "In the Senate, this is about to become the 'liberal' half of the debate. But it's not very liberal at all. It is a compromise, and a conservative one at that." Now, Politico reports, "liberals are turning their focus — and their frustrations" to Obama, who praised Reid Monday after seeming to prefer the trigger idea.
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