Latest on the Public Option

October 8, 2009 6:44 a.m.

Yesterday Sam Stein of Huffington Post reported that a new ‘compromise’ public option is getting a hearing on Capitol Hill, one which would allow individual states to opt-out of a national public option. To be clear, this is not 50 different state-based public options, where individual states could opt out. It’s a national public option, which individual states could opt not to participate in.

The idea is from Sen. Carper (D-DE). But Sen. Schumer (D-NY) seems to be pushing it. He just went on TV a few moments ago and said the idea was gaining traction. The two of them apparently met yesterday evening to discuss the idea.

Now, I haven’t heard yet from the people who really understand the policy dimensions of this stuff, the people who know all the moving parts and whose opinions I trust. So consider my comments as very tentative, subject to change if, as is quite possible, there are dimensions of this I’m not considering. But just on the face of it, this sounds like a compromise reformers could embrace because I suspect many, probably most states would opt in, providing a plenty large enough pool to get to the bargaining power that is essential to make a public option work.

Part of my assumption here is that you’d have relatively few states opting out and they’d tend toward lower population states, likely clustered in the South and mountain states. So I suspect that a substantial majority of the population would be in opt-in states, providing the bargaining power that would make the public option threshold viable. And if the public option works, one would think the people in opt-out states would quickly become pretty envious of the folks in states who had the option and pressure their state governments to get in. Of course, if the public option was an abysmal failure the reverse would happen. But that’s another matter.

In any case, there are a lot of questions here. And we’re mobilizing a lot of reporting resources today to get a handle on a cluster of key questions — is this viable in policy terms? is it being taken seriously on Capitol Hill? does it significantly change the vote numbers (if it doesn’t, it’s irrelevant)? where’s the White House on this? So our teams in DC and NY are on this. But we want your thoughts and tips too.

Late Update: We’ve already gotten a few emails from people in states like South Dakota and Louisiana, saying, hey, this compromise is awful for us. What’s great about a compromise that gives me no option at all? That’s a good question. And I agree, it sucks, to put it frankly. My assumption here though is that this would be a way to get most of the population in a framework where a public option was available. And, just as important, a successful public option would create building political pressure for the opt-out states to opt in. So, again, I’m not saying it’s great. But as a compromise, I think it might present a path to a good result.

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