8 a.m. ET: Unless this is a horror movie -- and at this point, it might be -- it appears that the public option is really, truly dead. Probably.
After Joe Lieberman drew a line in the sand over the weekend, Senate Democrats met Monday to chart the way forward on health reform, as leaders appear ready to jettison the last vestige of a public option: the Medicare buy-in for those aged 55-64. After the gathering, the Associated Press reports, Harry Reid "did not say flatly that Democrats had decided to drop the proposal for uninsured Americans as young as 55 to purchase coverage under Medicare. But several senators said it appeared inevitable, and liberals sounded resigned to it." Lieberman, for his part, said he was "encouraged about the direction these talks are going." The New York Times ledes: "Just the thought of Joseph I. Lieberman makes some Democrats want to spit nails these days. But Mr. Lieberman, the Connecticut independent, is not the least troubled by his status as Capitol Hill’s master infuriator — and on Monday he showed how powerful that role can be at a time when Democrats cannot spare a single vote."
The change of heart came after the White House reportedly pressured Reid to cut a deal with Lieberman, though the White House denies that. Regardless of how it happened, Ezra Klein writes the obituary: "The public option died tonight. So, it seems, did its eager successor, the Medicare buy-in. ... The calculation, in the end, was pretty simple. The White House wants the Senate done with health-care legislation by Christmas. The argument is that big bills rarely fail in a dramatic vote. They bleed to death slowly, wasting away amid a procession of delays and procedural setbacks. The longer a health-care reform bill takes, the less likely it is to pass."
If any liberals emerged from Monday's meeting vowing to oppose the bill without a public option, they have not spoken up yet. President Obama will meet with Senate Democrats Tuesday to rally the troops. Politico reports that "insiders suspect that today’s caucus meeting at the White House ... will go a long way toward convincing liberals that it’s better to pass something rather than nothing." The session is part of what Roll Call describes as Obama's planned "intense but largely behind-the-scenes effort on health care reform legislation this week." Of course, the news of Senate Democrats' change came too late for House Democrats to react, and liberals from that chamber will surely agitate to restore the public option during conference.
Meanwhile, other hurdles remain. "Ben Nelson continues to raise concerns that the legislation doesn't go far enough to ensure taxpayer dollars won't be used to fund abortions. Also, Democrats remain divided on a proposal by Byron Dorgan that would allow the reimportation of prescription drugs from Canada and some other countries," the Wall Street Journal writes. A vote on Dorgan's amendment is set for Tuesday, and "drugmakers intensified their lobbying push Monday" to kill the proposal, the Washington Post reports.
Obama met with those "fatcat bankers" Monday, and as best we can tell, he did not yell at them or have them thrown in the White House dungeon (yes, there is one). The New York Times writes that Obama "pressured the heads of the nation’s biggest banks on Monday to take 'extraordinary' steps to revive lending for small businesses and homeowners, prompting assurances from some financial institutions that they would do more even as they continued to shed their supplicant status in Washington." And in response, the Wall Street Journal reports, "Chief executives of the largest U.S. banks acknowledged Monday the 'disconnect' between their expressed support for re-regulating financial markets and the work of their lobbyists to weaken any new rules." Citigroup and Wells Fargo both announced Monday that they were repaying their bailout money, reducing the government's leverage over them. Bloomberg says "the U.S. banking industry moved out of intensive care" with those two announcements, but "Timothy Geithner still can’t claim the patient is healthy."
On the Hill, House Democrats got the news of a fourth swing-district retirement in recent weeks from Bart Gordon. The news left "party officials and strategists fearful that they represent the leading edge of a wave of departures that could leave the Democrats vulnerable to significant losses in the 2010 midterm elections," the Washington Post writes. More departures are "inevitable," Roll Call reports, and "Several older, long-tenured Members are being eyed as possible retirees in 2010, including ... John Spratt ... and Ike Skelton."Politico says a GOP poll showed Gordon trailing his likely Republican opponent before he revealed his decision. Gordon is in good position to become a well-paid lobbyist, The Hill notes, "and if Gordon makes the switch, it stands to reason that others might wonder if it’s the right path for them as well." On the Senate side, Stu Rothenberg writes: "As 2009 draws to a close, Democrats now could lose seats, a dramatic change from January that could end the party's 60-seat majority in less than two years. And GOP gains could be large enough to sink any major Democratic initiatives not passed before Congress adjourns for the midterm elections."
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