Opting For 60

by digby

Everybody's been talking about an "opt-out" public option trial balloon being floated in the senate. As I understand it, it would automatically provide a public option but would allow the leadership of any state to tell their constituents that they can't have one. Sucks for the people in their states who need it, but perhaps these leaders will react as the Republicans did during the stimulus and squeal and squawk about how they won't cooperate --- and then cooperate. Who knows?

I think this is mainly an attempt to get a public option that could garner 60 votes, so they can break the inevitable Republican filibuster. The thinking goes that if both Houses don't go into the conference with a public option they are far less likely to come out with one. The bridge is just too far. So, they need to get to get the best public option they can get in the Senate.

This opt-out clause is the latest attempt to coerce the recalcitrant corporate Dems to vote with their party. And it got some high profile liberal support today:

Dean: If I Were A Senator I'd Vote For Opt-Out Public Option

One of the most respected progressive voices on health care reform said on Thursday that he could live with and even support a compromise to the public plan that would grant states the right to reject the option entirely.

Former DNC Chair Howard Dean told the Huffington Post that the "opt-out" compromise that is being discussed by Senate Democrats was not his ideal conception of what a health care overhaul should be. But he granted that the proposal would produce "real reform" and said that, if there were no other vehicle for getting a bill through the Senate, he would support it.

"If I were a member of the U.S Senate I wouldn't vote for the [Senate Finance Committee] bill but I would vote for this," Dean said, "not because it is necessarily the right thing to do but because it gets us to a better conversation about what we need to do."

In a brief telephone interview, Dean stressed repeatedly that his preference remained, far and away, a national public option that was available to anyone -- regardless of state -- from the day of its conception. But in a wholly political context, he acknowledged, adding the opt-out option to the bill might be the best and only way to get something through the Senate.

"I would like to see that come out of the Senate because it is a real public plan," he said of the opt-out compromise. "Then they can negotiate it [with the House] in conference committee... And if this passes I won't say it is not reform because it is reform."

"If this is what it takes to get 60 votes I say go for it," said Dean

One of the loudest proponents of a national public option, Dean's support for an opt-out provision -- however qualified -- is sure to have ripple effects on Capitol Hill. Currently a group of Democratic senators, led by Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), are discussing the opt-out as a means of bridging the divide between progressive members of the caucus (who demand a public plan in the final product) and conservatives in the party (who are worried about the effect a government-run insurance provider would have on private markets). Dean's remarks on the compromise provision could help Schumer and company help bridge that divide, though the former Vermont governor himself predicted that conservative members would still fight it.

Keep in mind that whatever comes out of the conference will probably be at least somewhat different than what we've seen going in. So this is still part of the negotiation process not the final word by any means. And I'm not sure it serves the final process for the netroots to get too invested in anything other than strong support for the public option such as that which was passed in the HELP committee.

But the fact that Dean endorsed this is meaningful since he's been the staunchest voice in the media for the public option. We'll see if it moves this along.

Update: After Obama's HC speech last month, I noted this:

Jonathan Cohn has a rundown on the news Obama made in the speech. I can't speak to the policy importance of these new elements, but on a political level, this seems very smart to me:

A promise to provide low-cost, bare-bones policies right away--merely as a stopgap, until full reforms kick in.

This could be huge because it will get a lot of people under some kind of coverage immediately and, combined with the insurance reforms, may show enough people some benefits right away so the rest of the plan can kick in before the Republicans can demagogue their way back into office.

Dean has been talking about this problem too, and his solution is even better:

To address that problem, Dean said Democrats need to do something that will have tangible results by next summer. His proposal: opening up Medicare to people over the age of 50 so that a "certain mass" of people will already have benefited from health reform by the elections. "You need to have people sign up for this program by July 2010," Dean said.

I've heard this before but it never seems to go anywhere. I'd be first in line to sign up for that plan. Even if it is eventually phased out it would be worth doing right now. The people my age --- and they are a huge group --- are in real trouble with the current economic mess --- lost their retirement nest eggs, their property values are in the dirt and their health care costs are insane. This would be very, very helpful.