Her idea has gotten the nod from Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE)--perhaps the most conservative Democrat in the Senate, and a good barometer for the sorts of policy objectives that can win the support of all moderate Democrats. His assent suggests that a trigger would allow the party's right flank to tell their conservative constituents that they didn't roll over and green light a big new government program. Their support will be necessary when Republicans filibuster. And the provision would, indeed, put the fate of the public option in serious doubt.
So the question now is, Will it provide similar cover for House liberals? For the entirety of the health care debate, congressional progressives have been emphatic about the need for health care reform legislation to create a "robust" public option--a government insurance plan that's tied to Medicare and, ideally, available the moment the bill takes effect. No triggers.
But the public option on offer in House legislation has already veered from the "robust" entity these progressives had in mind. Nobody on the left is happy about that. And a private co-op plan would almost surely cause revolt. But a trigger--particularly, as Speaker Pelosi suggested today, a trigger affixed to a Medicare-like public option--might allow them to vote for the legislation with a clear conscience.
Today, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and House Whip James Clyburn both said a trigger might be the way to go. And deputy whip Debbie Wasserman-Schultz said that while "now's not the time" for triggers, she's also not willing to play "my way or the highway politics" with health care reform.
It's far from a sure thing. But as Josh suggests here, it's the one way forward that doesn't seem destined to get the axe from either progressives or centrists, or that doesn't carry with it all of the procedural problems the reconciliation option poses.
It also doesn't scare off the insurance companies in quite the same way that a regular public option would. All of which probably explains why White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has been floating the idea for a long time now.