Public Option "Plan B" In the WorksNovember 11, 2009 - by Donny Shaw
You’ve probably heard the reports that some Democrats in the Senate — or at least senators who caucus with the Democrats — are threatening to filibuster the health care bill if it contains a public option. Sen. Joseph Lieberman [I, CT], for example, says he’ll join Republicans on a filibuster of a bill that includes a public option and isn’t willing to wiggle on his position. Other Democrats that are not supportive of the public option and have not ruled out filibustering include Sen. Ben Nelson [D, NE], Sen. Evan Bayh [D, IN], Sen. Blanche Lincoln [D, AR] and Sen. Mary Landrieu [D, LA].
Not surprisingly, Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid [D, NV] has a “Plan B” for passing a health care bill if these conservative Democrats do in fact filibuster. Congress Daily tonight gives us a preview of the plan:
Even as Senate Majority Leader Reid seeks votes for a healthcare bill with a public option that states can opt-out of, Reid has allowed Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., to work on what one aide called a “Plan B” if Reid cannot line up 60 votes for cloture.
Carper said he and some other senators, whom he declined to name, are working on an alternative public option if the opt-out falls short.
In states where private insurers fail to offer affordable coverage, Carper said the alternative would permit them to set up a non-profit board, likely appointed by the president, to offer insurance.
“That kind of approach might come close to hitting a sweet spot for a lot of people,” said Carper, noting the approach “addresses concerns about government-owned, government-run.”
At most, this is a sort of ghost of the public option plan. It combines the weakest possible derivatives of the original plan in respect to both its implementation and its operation. Instead of taking effect across the board, it would getting “triggered” only in states that don’t cross a certain “affordability” threshold for insurance plans. Instead of being a robust, national government-run program with the economy of scale to sell insurance at below market rates and drive down costs, it would be a series of small, state-based, private non-profits.
It takes Sen. Olympia Snowe’s [R, ME] “trigger” and Sen. Kent Conrad’s [D, ND] “co-ops,” and combines them to make a plan that probably would never take effect, and if it does, wouldn’t actually do anything. This is the absolute weakest possible derivative of the public option that anyone could say, with a straight face, has its roots in the public option idea.
Reid and Carper know their idea is absurdly weak; that’s why they have been trying to keep it secret:
The Democratic aide said staffers have tried to keep Carper’s alternative quiet due to concerns that publicity could draw attacks from liberal activists, which could complicate efforts to line up support from the full Democratic caucus.
It’s hard to imagine that Reid and Carper even mean this is a serious policy proposal. To me, it seems like a plan to keep at least a memory of the public option alive in the Senate’s health care bill. If they can’t pass the public option, this would serve as a kind of place holder in the Senate’s bill for where the public option would go if it were there. That might be enough to keep the House-Senate conference committee negotiations revolving around the question of “what kind of public option” to include in the final bill rather than whether or not to include any kind of public option at all.