Friday, October 23, 2009

Wild Public Option Speculation

I'm not a reporter; I only know what I read, and I have no inside sources telling me anything.

That said, I do have some suspicions about what might be going on behind the puzzling health care developments of the last 24 hours. The big news as of this evening (reporting is HuffPo here, Cohn here, and TPM here) appears to be that various sources are telling reporters that Harry Reid is close to having 60 votes for an opt-out public option, but that Obama (and Rahm Emanuel) are telling him to ditch the opt-out in favor of a Snowe trigger. As Josh Marshall says, this is odd. Liberals are up in arms with charges of sell-out (here's just one example).

Ready for the wild speculation?

Think about the situation right now. Liberals are focused on one thing above all: securing a weak public option with an opt-out in the Senate. That marks two changes: a shift of focus away from the fight over weak vs. strong public plan in the House bill, and a shift in blame for the Senate from Harry Reid (and, to some extent, from individual marginal Senators) to Barack Obama and Rahm Emanuel. And, of course, it means enthusiasm for a weak public option with an opt-out, something that liberals were not, to say the least, inherently excited about. At the same time, Reid's struggle to get to 60 (for weak public option with opt out) in order to avoid the dreaded trigger demonstrates just how hard it would be for the Senate to move any farther in conference (which, I think, is probably true).

I think you can see where this is going...what if the leaks about WH insistence on a trigger are just an effort to manipulate liberal perceptions of the situation? Harry Reid, who needs enthusiastic liberal support for re-election, could come out of this as a liberal hero. Liberal activists are getting a chance to be on the side of what they previously thought of as a compromise of a compromise of a compromise; perhaps this will help prepare them to accept the half-loaf (on public option) that the votes have always said they would be lucky to get. If Pelosi is really going to come up short on a strong public option and have to go with a weak public option, this takes a bit of the spotlight off her; at any rate, she neither needs nor is short of support from liberal activists. And the supposed villains of the piece are Rahm Emanuel, whose job entails being the scapegoat at times, and Barack Obama, who really doesn't have to worry about liberal support in the long run. Especially if he is able to pass any kind of health care bill at all.

Hey, I don't know anything. Maybe Obama really does value Snowe's vote, with its bipartisan overtones, over a somewhat better bill. Or maybe it'll turn out that Bayh, or Ben Nelson, or Lincoln, is actually firmly against the bill by now, and the Dems really do need Snowe (and, in that scenario, Obama is taking the fall for Reid). Let's just say that I'm very, very suspicious of sell-out stories, or of the idea that Obama thinks that Snowe's vote is all that important for its symbolism. And that I think that Emanuel, and Obama, are certainly capable of the sort of all sorts of devious gamesmanship. Chicago-style politics? Well, neither FDR nor Ike was from Chicago, and they'd find it pretty familiar.

If, that is, that's what's going on.


  1. I'm generally skeptical of these sort of 'secret plan' theories. So I can't totally get behind this one. But it does sound extremely plausible, doesn't it?

  2. The other possibility that occurred to me is that Obama's focus at this point may be to get a bill through the Senate and into conference committee with the minimum of difficulty and with Snowe still on board, and then deal with the policy disagreements at that point, rather than risk losing a vote on the floor of the Senate before then. Given the probability that the House bill will contain at least a Schumer-style opt-out provision, if not the full "robust" public option, the conference bill may well be to the left of what the Senate originally passes. The thinking may be that it will be more difficult for Snowe, Nelson, et al. to not only oppose the conference bill, but vote against cloture on it, once they're already on record as voting yes on the floor for health care reform--but Obama is unwilling to risk everything blowing up now in the Senate over the public option before it even gets to conference. The quote in one of the stories along the lines of "You guys better know what you're doing" makes me think that this is not just a maneuver to take the liberal heat off Harry Reid, but reflects some genuine disagreement--and concern--about legislative tactics.


  3. Dave,

    Yes,I was struck by that quote too.

    The one other thing that might be going on is that it might not be only Snowe -- it could be that Snowe brings Collins, Voinovich, and Lugar with her, and that they might help with some other provisions that Obama wants the votes for. That would make sense to me, whereas I just can't see Obama sacrificing substance for the symbolism of Snowe's vote.


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