Senate Leader Gambles on Public Option

Senate Maj Ldr Reid appears to be gambling on this "opt out" public option that he announced earlier today - a national plan that somehow allows states to opt out.  He needs 60 votes on a procedural motion just to begin debate on the bill. I was told earlier today by a senior Dem aide that the rough count on "opt out" is about 58 votes (this appears to waiver, though, on any given day).  Sen. Ben Nelson, D-NE, is known to be one of the holdouts.  Unclear on the other(s).

When I asked a senior aide to Reid (post-Reid news conference) if the leader is 100% sure he has 60 votes (because Reid ignored that question at the event, the aide told Fox, Reid "hopes to have the 60 votes necessary" to move forward with debate on healthcare reform.  So he isn't sure.

His Whip/Deputy, Dick Durbin of Illinois, confirmed that he had not done a "hard Whip count" (where he meets with his deputy whips and they work in teams to ask all Dems how they'll vote or do a lot of persuading; hard tallies are put on paper, etc), that Reid was meeting one-on-one with moderates to win them over.  Durbin said that was the best way to start.

Regardless - Durbin made it clear that more liberal members of the caucus would have rejected a "trigger", so this is the gamble Reid will take - in favor of a public option, something the vast majority of the caucus supports.  Durbin called is "unfortunately a zero-sum situation" -- a comment on losing their only Republican, Olympia Snowe of Maine, in favor of not losing a handful of more liberal senators.

When asked for details of HOW a state will opt out of this national plan, WHO opts out, and other mechanical questions ---- the aide said, "We don't have a lot of details. Final decisions wont be made until we hear back from CBO."

Reid made clear at his news conference earlier that he has NOT sent any other public option (ie, trigger & "opt in" for states) to CBO ----- so I asked if perhaps this is because someone already as a CBO score on these provisions, the aide said emphatically: NO.

And on Snowe --- as I've reported, she's NOT for this opt in approach.  Her office put out this statement in reaction to Reid's announcement:

“I am deeply disappointed with the Majority Leader’s decision to include a public option as the focus of the legislation. I still believe that a fallback, safety net plan, to be triggered and available immediately in states where insurance companies fail to offer plans that meet the standards of affordability, could have been the road toward achieving a broader bipartisan consensus in the Senate.”

I guess they can count her out.  So what now - if there is no Republican support?

So --- sometime as early as next week, when CBO finishes its analysis and cost estimation of the bill (this could take 2 weeks), we will see if Reid has effectively garnered the 60 votes he needs to start debate on this bill.