House Blue Dogs today released a statement of principles (PDF) for what they call “responsible” health reform, specifically addressing what they view as acceptable terms of the public option.
Buried at the bottom is this caveat. “The availability of a public option would occur only as a fallback and in the absence of adequate competition and cost containment. Fundamental insurance market reforms and increased choice…should improve access and contribute to lower costs. However, should the private plans fail to meet specific availability and cost targets, a public option would be triggered and be allowed to compete on a level playing field subject to the conditions outlined above.”
The trigger idea is one that’s has purchase among conservative Democrats in the Senate, too. It’s also an ideas that liberal Democrats call a non-starter. The gist is that the government would give insurance companies a few years to get with the program by meeting heretofore unknown cost-saving and coverage goals, and to only create a public option in the event that they miss their deadline. But triggers are often unsuccessful policy tools, and since liberals are basically running the health care show in the House, there’s almost no chance that this will be written into their bill, an early version of which should be released in the next couple weeks.
It should be noted that the Blue Dogs aren’t monolithic on this point. Already, Patrick Murphy (D-PA) and Mike Michaud (D-ME) are distancing themselves from this statement–and several others have signaled in the past that they support a public option at the outset. But at the very least this demonstrates that there’s still a considerable appetite among conservative Democrats for weakening or imperiling the public option.