For days there was silence. And then this morning and afternoon, the floodgates opened. Senators began saying, on the record, that Democratic leadership was leaning toward putting a public option–with an opt out clause–in the base Senate health care bill.
But, as a source close to the negotiations told me, there’s more to leadership’s inclination than meets the eye. Part of the play here is to see whether this news causes Senate centrists to flip out. A classic trial balloon. So far, only Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) has said it will likely cost Harry Reid her cloture vote. Conservative Democrats might not be pleased, but so far they’re keeping it fairly bottled up. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) voiced some displeasure, but nobody’s gone into revolt.
Assuming the calm endures, chances seem pretty good that this is the direction Reid will take. But it won’t be set in stone…until it’s set in stone. As Greg Sargent has noted, the votes aren’t there yet for a straightforward public option like the level-playing-field plan in the Senate HELP Committee’s bill. In other words, negotiations will continue.