As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Everyone Loves An Opt-Out

Here we have yet another compromise on the public option that sets moderates in Washington stirring. The "opt-out" national public option, which would offer states a chance to eliminate it for their own jurisdiction, is gaining support on Capitol Hill. Chuck Schumer says it's being "very seriously considered". Max Baucus says through an aide he would consider supporting it. Howard Dean said he'd support it if he were a Senator. Richard Kirsch from HCAN says it's better than triggers, co-ops and opt-ins, which is faint praise but praise nonetheless.

I think there's some good and bad to it. We don't know what the opt-out would look like - a referendum? Gubernatorial veto? Federal waiver? A policy bill with a hurdle in state legislatures? Tied to funding? - and how easy it could be surmounted, as well as how easily gamed by special interests. Insurance companies are spending $1 million a day to beat the public option in Congress, you don't need that much to beat it in the states. Would this have a chilling effect on all federal legislation, with every big bill subsequently requiring a state opt-out, balkanizing the country? Or would every red state Governor bluff at opting out, and then, after seeing the numbers for how this would really help people, grudgingly accept it? We also don't know what kind of public option this would bring into being. Would it be Chuck Schumer's weak conception with no tie to Medicare bargaining rates? Or a robust public option with Medicare + 5% rates and Medicare's provider network? I think Nancy Pelosi is doing something very smart by scoring both versions just so the fiscal conservatives can choke on the numbers.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will submit multiple versions of the House's healthcare bill for cost estimates, she announced on Thursday.

The first proposal will include a "robust public option," which would tie doctor reimbursement rates to that of Medicare plus five percent. The remaining two drafts submitted for the Congressional Budget Office's consideration would include a public option based on "the negotiated rates that some in our caucus have supported and which was passed by the Energy and Commerce Committee," the speaker explained during Thursday's press briefing.

"And then we'll see back from the CBO what the scoring is on all of that," Pelosi said. "And, of course, we have promised not a dime to the deficit. This is our promise. We will not take a bill to the floor, the president will not sign a bill that adds a dime to the deficit."

We already know that the CBO considers the robust version to save $85 billion more than the weak version, so this will just cement that even more.

All the while, House Progressives, which have formed a block requiring a straight national public option with no opt-out and ties to Medicare rates, continue to say they won't compromise, won't blink, and claims that they have the votes they need to pass their plan in the House, although some have questioned the numbers.

I think the strategy should be maximalist - pass the best of what you can in the House, and the best of what you can in the Senate, so that when the two bills are merged, you at least are dealing with the best possible from both chambers. A merger, for example, could see a Medicare-tied public option with the opt-out clause.

However, the nagging feeling is that nobody wants to stop the public option, or at least nobody wants to be responsible for it. In that case, shouldn't the plan for supporters be to say to them, "We dare you to kill this"?

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