Friday 23 October 2009

White House shoots down trigger rumor again

The White House has specifically refuted the TPM report that they are pressuring Reid to switch from the opt-out to the trigger. Dan Pfeiffer: "The report is false. The White House continues to work with the Senate on the merging of the two bills. We are making good progress toward enacting comprehensive health reform." The White House denied it once already, but the denial was vague so they denied it again. That is actually the first time the White House has come out overtly and said they’re working to get the public option passed.

The trigger notion would have flown in the face of the White House’s clear effort to (a) get a good bill, by (b) letting the legislators figure it out for themselves and do their own nose-counting.

Keep in mind that the original rumor had a bad smell from the start – it was also rumored that Pelosi was secretly seeking the trigger too, which we know is bullcrap. Some janitor or pastry chef with a White House extension is making mischief with some leakage.

At best, the earlier leak was some White House staffer forcing people to take a hard look at the trigger, so they can see that it is indeed a really crappy proposal, and that it isn’t worth it to make that big a concession just for one Republican, in an effort to straighten out Senate Blue Dogs, or scare liberals into working harder for a strong public option.

This was NOT a White House panic attack – if they fear that Reid has gotten his math wrong again on this no-margin vote, particularly after blowing the doctor-fix measure, they still have the reconciliation option in their back pocket. They have a good fallback plan, they don’t need a crappy one.

And Booman echoes a sentiment expressed earlier: Reid wouldn’t have floated the opt-out trial balloon if he didn’t have the votes AND White House approval.

Obama told the press he’s looking for a “serious public option”, which Snowe’s proposal certainly was not. Just because Obama has, in the past, shown polite interest in the trigger – or at least Snowe, or at least in bipartisanship – doesn’t mean he is going to cripple his signature presidential legacy, and undermine his vulnerable Majority Leader, and probably lose anyway because guys like Rocky would balk, all for one woman.

The opt-out plan is still on track, and we know this because of the Blue Dog that didn’t bark.

It seems that initially Reid didn’t have the votes nailed down for cloture and simply gambled that when he announced his plan, the Blue Dogs wouldn’t object. And he was right, they didn’t – the Blue Dogs that didn’t bark (although they growled a bit). Apparently Reid knew they wouldn’t, based on some consultations which indicated that the Blue Dogs would support cloture if they had a chance to offer, and vote for, an amendment stripping OUT the public option, thereby appeasing their conservative constituents. And the most unnerving moderates have, in the past, expressed willingness to consider the public option: Ben Nelson and Conrad have expressed willingness to support some form of it, Bayh said he’s an agnostic on it, Landrieu and Lieberman and Pryor have promised to support cloture (the one I want to hear from is Lincoln).

The Huffington Post published a really badly-written piece saying that Reid is only one or two votes away from either (a) securing 60 votes on cloture, or (b) securing 60 votes on the actual health care bill. My guess is that he is still working to nail down two on cloture – some combination of Lincoln, Nelson, Baucus and Bayh.

And remember that this latest trial balloon, the opt-out, did get almost universal positive reactions, whereas when the trigger-option trial balloon was floated weeks ago, it crashed to the ground, full of holes. People just don’t like it (although, annoyingly, Blue Dogs might).

And there has been no effort to fix Snowe’s orginal trigger plan, to make it workable and marketable. If someone at the White House had really wanted the trigger, they could have come along and said “here is how we alter Snowe’s plan, to make the threshold lower and the trigger more of a hair-trigger”, and then marketed the idea. But they didn’t. Instead they let Schumer, the real leader in the Senate for my money, spend weeks marketing the opt-out. If, in the next week, you see someone like Nelson or Bayh come out with an improved trigger, then we can adjust our estimates.

Another leaker, anonymous of course, asserts that Senate leaders not only are doing a nose count on the trigger, but have found that the trigger plan is closer to getting 60, being only 1-2 votes way. Funny how the opt-out seems to be at almost exactly the same point – sounds like a tie to me. You could argue that the nose counts for the good opt-out could be 60 while the bad trigger could come out to 61, but the trigger still a bad proposal, which means Obama will tell Reid not to even allow it to come to a vote.

Obama did say at one point that it is the conference report, not the initial Senate vote, that is important. However, existing Senate rules, and the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007, make it hard for a conference committee to add new material that wasn’t passed in either house originally. As I understand it (not being a parliamentarian), if the House passes the robust public option, and the Senate passes the trigger option, it is hard to pull a switcheroo in conference and add the opt-out instead. Not impossible, but hard – for one thing you would need 60 votes in the Senate again. That would not be a problem if the House had the opt-out, but that would involve Pelosi persuading her already-angry caucus to give in on both the robust option and the opt-out. So getting the opt-out into the original Senate bill is optimal.

And we don’t want to misinterpret Pelosi’s struggle in the House. She is not having trouble with the robust plan because House members dislike it. She is having trouble because the Senate is clearly moving toward the Schumer plan – the fence-sitters in the House don’t want to go on record for a liberal plan that isn’t going to go anywhere on the other side of the hill. She could have nailed down the robust option if Reid had waited a bit, but it hardly matters – the robust option was never going to get through the Senate successfully. The centrists are saying they want to go slow in the legislative process. My take is – that’s fine, commit NOW to cloture and we’ll vote next January if you want.

And Tim Pawlenty says that if the opt-out is passed, he will lead a crusade to get ultra-blue Minnesota to opt out. Either he really is that clueless about his home state, or he’s just posturing for national attention.

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