Reid Moves on Public Option

It might not be considered robust enough by some more liberal members of the Democratic Party, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, appears set to announce (at 3:15pm) that he's chosen to put a national public option, giving states the chance to opt out, in his base bill that he will bring to the floor as early as next week.  This is a pretty big deal, as any kind of public option seemed dead on arrival for quite some time.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, has been working hard to get something besides a "trigger" option touted by GOP Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, the lone Republican to vote for healthcare reform thus far.  She would have a government plan kick in at some determined point, if current reform efforts don't work.

The White House has been trying to keep her on board, but Dem sources  say that the Administration is not pressuring Reid.  (see White House blog for Dan Pfeiffer's weekend entry)

Schumer said on Sunday that the government would set up this national plan with some seed money that would have to be paid out "over a period of years".  Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-LA, met with Reid on Friday and emerged to say she could see a compromise coming.  She gave a few more details of a plan she says moderates could support:  the plan would be run by a nonprofit, private board funded with premiums charged to participants.  The board would also negotiate rates, like private insurance companies.  She seemed keen to say that this plan would be "government-CREATED, not government-run."

Schumer also added that after 3 months: "It would have to play by the same rules as the (private) insurance companies - the same rates, the same reserves, the same requirements."

No word on how much this whole thing costs; no word on who sets up the board and who gets to sit on it; no word on how much seed money would be needed from taxpayers and how long before it's paid back; and no word on what happens to nonprofit cooperatives in all this. Many Dems have been cool to coooperatives, though, since they were proposed by centrist Dem Sen. Kent Conrad, D-ND, and included in the Senate Finance Committee bill.   Conrad has said he could also support a public option.

One moderate, Bill Nelson, D-FL, voiced a concern today that we have not yet heard. He was onboard Air Force One and told reporters that he hopes there's a 2 year limit, otherwise insurance companies could lobby state legislatures to opt out immediately.

Some senior Dem aides in leadership have said the whip count (aka: vote count) has varied from 56-58 votes for cloture to start debate on the bill.  That's key --- Reid wants to get cloture, for which he needs 60 votes, to proceed with debate --- even if one of his Dems cant support what's in the actual bill.

All eyes are on the mods, then -- among them:  Ben Nelson, Joe Lieberman, Evan Bayh, Blanche Lincoln, and some of the moderate freshmen, though it's very hard to see them defying their leadership so early in the game.

All of this said, as Reid submits his bill to CBO for analysis and scoring, just because he's made a decision on public option and might have 60 votes doesnt mean it's all smooth sailing.  Moderates and liberals, alike, want to see more changes to the bill ---- to subsidies, to taxes, to the mandate, and more.  And what happens if CBO delivers an adverse score that doesn't predict the cost curve will be bent in later years? or that costs more than $900 billion?

A decision and possible deal on public option is, indeed, huge, though. You'd be hard-pressed to find people up here on Capitol Hill who've been following this regularly who ever thought a public option would get thru the Senate (outside of the Snowe trigger).  This could mean no GOP support for the bill, though, in the end, and that could be problematic for Americans who seem to want bipartisanship on this issue, according to polling.  BUT -- it's equally hard to imagine who bipartisanship could be committed in this exceedingly partisan environment and especially on a topic that highlights (with a very bright light)  the major ideological differences between the nation's major political parties.