The latest public option compromise now floating in a trial balloon somewhere over D.C. is an "opt-out" public option that starts nationally but allows individual states to leave the program. The basic idea is that blue states get a public option, while red states don't.
Like most of these "compromises"--namely triggers or co-ops--it has three fatal flaws:
On top of all that, this compromise has a problem all its own:
- First, it is yet another example of compromising with ourselves, even though we have enough votes to pass a national public option through the Senate.
- Second, only one side, Progressives (as always), are required to give up anything. This "compromise" moves in only one direction--toward a weaker public option.
The only floated compromise where this was not the case was the "stronger trigger" Pelosi floated last month. In that compromise, Progressives would be allowed to write trigger language, thereby making it a certainty to kick in and also allowing for a much stronger public option than any of the ones currently on the table. Of course, the Maine Republicans saw right through that trick, and the idea was quickly nixed.
The opt-out "compromise" offers nothing comparable in return, such as a public option that would be available to 100% of all residents in the states that did not opt-out.
- Third, there is no indication this compromise actually has any votes behind it. In addition to garnering no Republican votes, it is a safe bet is that this would be opposed by a lot of House Progressives, and also opposed by a lot of other House Democrats who are from the red states that would opt-out.
Given both that we all expect Progressives to fold on anything and that it seems the 60-vote culture of the Senate means the House doesn't matter anymore, it is a common misconception that just because an idea is floated by a Senate Conservadem leader--in this case, Tom Carper--the idea has the votes to pass into law. That just isn't true.
Yesterday produced a perfect example of why Senate Conservadem ideas are often non-starters. Just before the CBO released the score on Max Baucus's health care bill, a huge, 150 member coalition of House Progressives and Blue Dogs pronounced it DOA. 24% of the funding for the Baucus bill comes from taxing high-cost insurance plans, even though such a proposal apparently has less than 100 total votes in the House. Single-payer has more votes in the House than the Baucus plan to tax high-cost insurance policies.
The lesson here is that just because a Senate Conservadem likes it doesn't mean the idea can actually pass into law.
For all of these reasons, the opt-out compromise is not worth supporting. There is, however, one thing that it offers, and which I admit will be very tempting to many Democrats:
A public option opt-out is a good way for blue state Democrats frustrated with Republican obstructionism to both experience the benefits of progressive policies and engage in punitive action against those who oppose them. You don't want to stand up to insurance companies, are fine with having large uninsured populations, and don't mind crippling health care costs? Fine, you go and do that red staters. Enjoy your corporate free for all, while we start living better.
- It would be a Democratic and Progressive-sanctioned middle finger to the 16,094,055 Obama voters who live in McCain states. This is not even to mention the 4,282,367 Floridians who voted for Obama but whose Republican dominated legislature would opt-out the week after the health care bill passed. There are even a lot of non-voters and Republicans who would use, need and want a public option but who live in red states.
I admit, that can be a pretty tempting viewpoint. The vicious rhetoric against liberals and progressives for decades, not to mention the damage caused by conservative governance and power grabs, increases the desire to just go our separate ways. Just let red America have its corporate free for all, while maybe here in blue America we can regain some control over the system and prove we have better polices.
The opt-out plan still isn't a good idea, and we need to stop talking about supporting it. However, I do at least understand why it is tempting. Spite can be a powerful emotion in politics these days.