Finally, a public option compromise everyone likes?

An idea to allow states to opt out of a government-run insurance plan is getting some buzz


Alex Koppelman
October 9, 2009 4:45AM (UTC)

So far, the compromises that have been suggested in an effort to get some form of a public option through the Senate have ended up satisfying no one. There's one new one out there, though, that's getting some traction. Though it's still too early to be sure, there may now be a solution that both liberal and conservative Senate Democrats can agree on.

Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Tom Carper, D-Del., have come up with a proposal that would establish the national government-run insurance option that progressives want, with one caveat. Under the plan they've been discussing, individual states could vote to opt out of the public option. (Ironically, conservatives in various states have been discussing measures that would opt them out, but that was a negative reaction to the idea of a public option, not a way of achieving compromise.)

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So far, the reaction to the idea has been fairly enthusiastic, even from staunch supporters of the public option like former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. Dean's say-so is enough for many progressives, and likely means that the liberal wing of the Democratic Party will accept the compromise, even if they do so grudgingly.

On the other side of the Democratic Party, too, there are some signs that Schumer's compromise could be acceptable. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., a fairly conservative Democrat who's been at the center of the legislative process as he tried to work out a deal that could win some Republican votes, would at least consider voting for this plan, an aide told Greg Sargent.

We won't know for a little while if this compromise is going to go anywhere or whether it was just a momentary fad. But it certainly has potential, at least politically.

Liberals get their public option, first of all, which will make the base happy and give the administration and many congressional Democrats a big win. There's still the chance some states will choose to opt out, of course, but even that might go liberals' way. There might be too much pressure -- and too much money -- working against an opt-out decision, the same way that even the most conservative states ended up accepting the lion's share of the money they were entitled to as a result of  the stimulus. (And with all the anger towards conservatives over the tenor of the reform debate, the Democratic base might not mind if a few red states do end up opting out.)

Moderate and conservative Democrats, meanwhile, will get some political cover, the chance to say they fought hard against a public option and ended up winning individual states the right to choose. Plus, though they may have been fighting against some of what the White House wants to see in any reform bill, a win for President Obama is ultimately a win for them -- and with the memory of how former President Bush dragged down his fellow Republicans still fresh, that matters.


Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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