Opting In

by digby

In this interesting article about how the "opt-out" came to be, is this sobering little detail:

But skepticism from the White House isn't the only hurdle that remains. While a host of Democrats, including the administration, publicly praised Reid for standing by an opt-out public option, internal whip counts indicate that there are approximately 57 votes for the proposal. Convincing the remaining three caucus members that the bill should be allowed to get an up-or-down vote remains an uphill lift.

I think we can feel pretty confident that two of them are Blanche Lincoln and Ben Nelson. The third could be any number of spoiled egomaniacs, corporate lackeys or conservative sell-outs, but is most likely Landrieu, who is probably holding out for some very substantial goodies which the president can best deliver. (The word is that Lieberman is on board to block the filibuster.)

Howie speculates about what will work with our good friend Blanche:

But... even knowing that Reid has spoken to all members of the caucus in the last week and even knowing what a cautious guy he is about presenting legislation that can't pass... Well, the question is this? Is he telling Blanche Lincoln that if she doesn't vote for cloture-- we don't need her on the bill, just on cloture to shut down the GOP filibuster-- she can't get her pony (her pony being the chairmanship of the Senate Agriculture Committee, the source of all riches and power in her hideous world).
We don't know if they are going that direction but if they are, it is very likely to work. Nothing on the planet is more important to her than the Ag Committee chairmanship, something that just landed in her lap and which she will be loathe to lose.

That leaves Nelson. And I'm guessing he is going to play chicken. Does he want to be the guy to go down in history as the one Democrat to tank health care reform? Is Reid willing to placate him by abandoning the public option?

Whatever happens, Chuck Todd is reporting today that the White House is telling Reid that he's on his own. Here's Brian Beutler:

According to Todd, the White House is telling Reid, "You're the vote counter, but don't come crying to us when you need that last vote. That said, I've also been told, OK right now it's this 'opt-out,' the compromise could end up being the 'opt-in' and maybe this is what Reid was doing here--going with the 'opt-out' so the 'opt-in' was the compromise rather than the trigger being the compromise."

That's a lot of jargon, but to break it down, it sounds like White House officials are telling Todd two things.

First, they won't be there for Reid if he runs into political trouble keeping his caucus together for settling on a compromise (the opt-out) that is likely to cost him all Republican support.

Second, they seem to be telling him that this may be a gambit on Reid's part to do compromise down further, rather than simply settling on the lowest common denominator (the trigger) right away.
I know that Chuck Todd is a tool and by itself, I wouldn't necessarily give this report any credence. But it tracks with everything else we've been hearing. The White House doesn't give a damn about the public option and, it's obvious, would rather have some Republicans on board than have any particular element in the bill. There is no bottom line. (You know, when Roosevelt said "make me do it" I don't think this is exactly what he had in mind.)

Now the question is whether or not Reid is actually defying them or if there's a longer game involved. Howie Klein and I both speculated yesterday about whether Reid would end up substituting Opt-in for Opt-out if push came to shove. It's sounds silly, but I could see it happening. Cloture vote fails, Reid comes right back with Opt-in as the substitute and gets Nelson and Lincoln --- maybe even Snowe as a late conversion. The problem being that Opt-In is unworkable and basically kills the public option. Villagers won't know the difference and will present it as basically the same thing. (They are dumb. If you don't believe me, read this by Adam Green.)

This would be a very, very, very big mistake on Reid's part. Ezra writes today about how much liberals have already compromised and it's kind of stomach churning to see it all laid out. (Considering how much shit we've taken for being "unreasonable" and how every villager has spent the last few months opining how terrific it was that the Democrats were slapping their liberal base in the face, I suppose we're lucky that they haven't decided to allow insurance companies to deny coverage based on voting record.) Doing something cute like that would unleash a firestorm. Opt-out is only being accepted as a way to get the public option into the conference with the (slim) hope that they can get something better. Opt-in isn't the same thing and unlike the Villagers, we know it. Reid and the President will get no credit if they do this. None. Indeed, it will be seen as a betrayal of the highest order.

If the plan here is to placate the base, dangling the half baked opt-out compromise and getting liberals to sign on, then pulling it back in favor of some cute "sound alike," it would be so insulting I think they might just blow the whole thing up. It would take a lot to get liberals to vote against a health care bill, but if they want to test it, treating them like idiots might be a way to do it.

Update: Chuck Todd tells Greg Sargent that we aren't supposed to take what he says literally. Good to know.

But in case you were wondering there's other evidence as well. Here's John Amato on Ben Nelson.

I've been hearing from my sources that the ConservaDems in the House of Lords (The Senate) would rather have states be able to "opt in," rather than "opt out," of the public option in health-care reform. No matter how you feel about these proposals, the one Ben Nelson supports is a far, far worse plan than the other. Here's what he said on CNN's State of The Union:

KING: If there is a vote and Harry Reid needs 60, have you promised him, even if you disagree with the proposal and might vote no on the proposal, you would give him your vote on the procedural issue?

NELSON: I have made no promise. I can't decide about the procedural vote until I see the underlying bill. It would be, I think, reckless to say I'll support the procedure without knowing what the underlying bill consists of. And it's not put together yet. It's a draft -- it will be a draft bill some time next week, submitted the Congressional Budget Office for the review of the cost. And until I've seen a completed draft...

KING: Well, let me -- let me jump in, can you support...

NELSON: ... I'm not going to...

KING: Can you support a public option where states could opt out so there is a public option in the federal legislation, or will you only support a public option where the state would have to opt in, so there is not a national program already created?

NELSON: Well, I certainly am not excited about a public option where states would opt out or a robust, as they call it, robust government-run insurance plan. I'll take a look at the one where states could opt in if they make the decision themselves.