September 8, 2009

Will he or won't he? Everyone's waiting to see what President Obama will say in tomorrow night's speech. Will he draw a line in the sand over the public option? Despite the president's rousing speech yesterday, this article makes it seem doubtful.

Here's the problem in a nutshell: President Obama is looking for "something he can call a public option," not an actual public option. He wants a political compromise above an actual solution - an approach which may work on some issues, but is ill-suited to the magnitude of this health care crisis:

Amid fresh signs that the White House is preparing to back a scaled-down health care overhaul that would only include a public insurance option as a fallback plan, several House liberals told Roll Call that they could support such a bill depending on how it was structured.

The “trigger” approach has been considered a deal-killer by liberals on and off Capitol Hill, and the willingness of some Congressional Progressive Caucus members to entertain it reflects a recognition that a bruising August recess has imperiled prospects for reform and redrawn expectations for what is possible.

“This is a way to get a bill,” Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) said. “I believe it’s worth listening to because I want legislation that is going to, in some shape or form, expand coverage and bring down the cost of health care.”

Boy, that's a far cry from what we heard a year ago, isn't it? Because we're not all that interested in Massachusetts-style mandates that not only aren't worth anything to people whose budgets are already stretched too thin, it imposes an additional burden for the privilege. And it sounds like the progressive caucus is starting to crack.

Liberals stressed that the shift does not amount to an abandonment of their commitment to a “robust” public insurance option. They said they would only support a trigger if that approach guaranteed the same access, quality and affordability.

“I don’t want to give the impression that I’m so flexible that I’m willing to compromise away meaningful reform,” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said. “But there may be a variety of ways of getting there than the one I originally formulated in my mind.”

The development could open a path forward for the White House, which has so far been vexed by the threat of a liberal rebellion in the House if it backs off a far-reaching public insurance option or a revolt by Senate moderates if it insists on one.

In advance of a make-or-break address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, President Barack Obama took the temperature of leading House liberals on a Friday conference call. Leaders of the Progressive Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus sat in on the call and reiterated their support for a strong public insurance option, Progressive Caucus Co-Chairwoman Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) said. Obama did not make any definitive statements and asked for a follow-up meeting today or Wednesday.

“It sounded like he was trying to figure out how he could get something he could call a public option, regardless of what it is,” one staffer familiar with the call said.

White House officials have been exploring the possibility of a trigger in negotiations with Republican moderate Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine), a member of the gang of six on the Senate Finance Committee that has been struggling to forge a bipartisan agreement.

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