No solid news is coming out of the negotiations over healthcare reform between Majority Leader Harry Reid and his two committee chairs, or from Speaker Nancy Pelosi's similar efforts in the House. Which doesn't stop us from talking about it, of course, because the absence of hard news directly causes a flurry of rumors as to what is "really going on." These rumors are flying so fast and thick from inside the Beltway that suburbanites in Maryland and Virginia have been dive-bombed by them repeatedly, and have taken to cowering and ducking whenever they must walk outside. Or so it's been rumored....
Kidding aside, though, I'm going to latch onto one of these rumors and see how it could fly or get shot down, because it seems to be a Thursday type of story. If you disdain unsourced rumors masquerading as news, then I would advise you to just stop reading now, and maybe go do a sudoku or crossword puzzle for ten minutes instead.
The rumor in question comes from ABC News' blog "The Note," written by Jonathan Karl. The first paragraph is amusing to me, mostly because it's what I've been saying all along -- the mainstream media has been way too quick to pronounce the public option dead, and may have to eventually admit "sorry, folks, we were wrong those 347 times we told you the public option was dead." In any case, the blog post starts off:
The public option. The idea was believed to be dead. Liberals wanted it, but Senate vote counters insisted it simply could not pass the Senate. The dynamic, however, has changed. The public option may be back from dead.
I am told that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is leaning toward including the creation of a new government-run insurance program -- the so-called public option -- in the health care reform bill he will bring to the full Senate in the coming weeks.
In other words, rumors of the public option's death may have been greatly exaggerated. To put it mildly.
But actually, even though the article is based in rumor throughout, it is a fairly in-depth piece of writing. After discussing who may or may not vote for a bill that contains, or does not contain, a public option, Karl goes on to say:
...Reid needs 60 votes to pass a health care bill and there are simply not 60 Senators who support a public option. But Reid is now convinced that Democratic critics of the public option will support him when it counts -- on the procedural motion, which requires 60 votes, to defeat a certain GOP-led filibuster of the bill. Once the filibuster is beaten, it only takes 51 votes to pass the bill.
If that's true, that is huge news. Reid's problem, all along, has been how to break the filibuster attempt. Democrats have such a large majority in the Senate right now that nine of them could defect on any final bill, and it would still pass (counting, for convenience, the two Independents who caucus as Democrats). If he has corralled them all into voting the party line on Republican filibuster attempts, that means healthcare reform (of some type or another) is going to pass this year. As I said, this is huge news, if true.
The article goes on to reveal -- in detail -- what Harry Reid is now considering:
Another important point: Reid's version of the public option is different from the more liberal version advocated by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in two key ways: 1) Reid's version would allow individual states to opt-out of the program, giving public option critics the chance to say that their states retain the right to scrap the idea; and, 2) Under Reid's plan, the new government insurance program would have to negotiate payment rates with health care providers. Under Pelosi's, payment rates would be tied to the lower rates paid by Medicare.
This is big news as well, and if true would be quite a scoop for ABC.
Now, Reid has a pretty fine needle to thread in these negotiations. There are Democratic senators who are vowing to vote against any bill that "contains/does not contain" a public option. No matter what Reid comes up with, a certain segment of people who have been paying very close attention to the healthcare reform debate are going to scream: "Sell out!" This is just a fact. But there's a larger group out there of Democratic and independent voters who will likely get behind a compromise, and call it a victory if it gets signed. And this seems to be a fairly good compromise for Reid to make. Call it the least "sell-outy" of his options, if you will.
I've written before in support of the "opt out" plan that Charles Schumer came up with. Politically, I think it's a pretty good bridge between the divide of opinions among Senate Democrats. It allows senators an "out," so they can vote for it and then throw it back in their own state legislature's face (or their voters' faces) -- "You don't like it? Then opt out." So I have to say I'm happy to see that the idea is at least being given serious consideration by Reid.
The second detail is more problematic, as it would likely raise the overall cost of the bill, but is also a less-odious compromise than others I've heard. The House is rumored to be preparing a Medicare-based bill for passage themselves, or possibly "Medicare plus five" where an extra five percent is added as some sort of "tip" to doctors. Reid is rumored to be rejecting that approach, in favor of what supporters call the "fair playing field" option of having the public plan negotiate prices just like private insurance companies have to do. Again, while this may turn out to be more expensive in the long run, it at least sounds pretty fair to most Americans. OK, that was a sweeping statement, so let me just say "it is rumored" that it would sound pretty fair to most Americans. Better?
Amusement aside... oh, wait, I spoke too soon! Here's some prime, Grade-A amusement coming directly down the tracks at us, in the article's final paragraph:
This is not a done deal. I am told that Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) -- who worked for months to get Olympia Snowe's support for the bill and has consistently said a public option cannot pass the Senate -- was apoplectic when Reid told him he wanted to include the public option. "Baucus went to DEFCON 1," said a source familiar with the negotiations, referring to the alert level the military uses for an imminent attack on the homeland.
I'm just picturing Baucus going to DEFCON 1, personally. We should all begin to really worry if he starts mumbling about "precious bodily fluids," don't you think? Heh heh.
In any case, while it's fun to indulge in a little schadenfreude at Baucus' expense (since he alone was responsible for an excruciating three-month delay in progress, it's hard to feel sorry for him now), I have to say that this rumor-based article was interesting enough to comment on, mostly because I would be pleased if it turns out to be true. But I'm not convinced the whole article isn't one of those "let's leak it to the media to see what people think" sort of political maneuvers, and won't be so convinced until someone at least goes on record about it one way or the other. Because the subject of healthcare reform is a serious one which demands sober and reasoned... Ahh! It's a low-flying rumor! It's headed straight for us!
-- Chris Weigant