Dean sees value in opt-out compromise

DEAN SEES VALUE IN OPT-OUT COMPROMISE…. There’s been a lot of talk today about the opt-out public option compromise we talked about earlier. In a nutshell, the health care reform bill would include a national public option, but states that didn’t want to participate could affirmatively choose not to.

Howard Dean obviously won’t get a vote on this, but his voice is clearly influential in the process and among reform advocates. He told the Huffington Post today that he’d still prefer a genuine, robust, national public option that’s available from day one, but Dean conceded that this compromise is palatable.

“If I were a member of the U.S Senate I wouldn’t vote for the [Senate Finance Committee] bill but I would vote for this,” Dean said, “not because it is necessarily the right thing to do but because it gets us to a better conversation about what we need to do.” […]

[I]n a wholly political context, he acknowledged, adding the opt-out option to the bill might be the best and only way to get something through the Senate.

“I would like to see that come out of the Senate because it is a real public plan,” he said of the opt-out compromise. “Then they can negotiate it [with the House] in conference committee… And if this passes I won’t say it is not reform because it is reform…. If this is what it takes to get 60 votes I say go for it.”

Noting Dean’s leadership on the left on health care reform, Sam Stein added that Dean’s support “for an opt-out provision — however qualified — is sure to have ripple effects on Capitol Hill.”

On a related note, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told MSNBC this morning that the opt-out measure is being “very seriously considered” by Senate Dems, and he’s “very optimistic” that there will be “some kind of public option in the bill the president signs.”

To flesh out this morning’s post a bit, I should add that this approach is hardly without flaw. The right policy would be a robust, national public option, which gets an up-or-down vote. The search for a compromise at all only seems necessary if some Senate Democrats are willing to side with Republicans and deny health care reform a vote.

The biggest problem, at first blush, is that there are plenty of conservative states out there. American families in Utah, Oklahoma, and South Carolina would benefit just as much from a public option as families in Vermont, Illinois, and Washington. It seems unfair to punish consumers in deep “red” states, just because they’re governed by far-right conservatives.

But I can’t help but wonder exactly how many states would go through with the opt-out. When the stimulus debate was underway, plenty of right-wing governors said they had no intention of accepting the recovery funds. They changed their minds when partisan spite was overwhelmed by policy necessity.

The same could happen here, especially given the national popularity of the public option. It’s even easier to imagine some states opting out, and then opting back in when they see other states benefiting from the public-private competition.