What’s in it for the White House?

WHAT’S IN IT FOR THE WHITE HOUSE?…. As you may have noticed, there were more than a few signals from the administration yesterday that a public option as part of health care reform may be scuttled as part of the negotiating process. The White House made very little effort for most of the day to push back against the impression that a public option would be dropped, though by late in the day, there was some clarification that the president still supports a public option. His support, however, is not really at issue.

The NYT noted today, “For Mr. Obama, giving up on the public plan would have risks and rewards.” I suppose so. There are, however, four groups of policymakers in the mix. If the administration is prepared to drop a public option, the four will have different reactions.

* Republicans: The GOP’s principal complaint from the outset is that a public option amounts to a “government takeover of health care.” That’s absurd, but it was their lie and they were sticking to it. If there’s no public option, Republicans obviously lose their favorite, and perhaps most effective, talking point. Does that mean the GOP will be more willing to support reform? No, it means they’ll shift their complaints to something else. Why? Because the party doesn’t support health care reform.

* Maine’s Senate Delegation: Will Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins be more willing to support reform is there’s no public option? It’s possible, and if they’re more willing, senators like Ben Nelson might be more inclined to go along.

* Centrist and Conservative Democrats: Will Nelson and his cohorts find reform more appealing now? Probably, but what are they willing to compromise on? Or, put another way, if Obama is willing to drop a public option, he’s moving in their direction. Are they willing to perhaps move in his direction? If the answer is “no,” then there’s no real point in scuttling a public option in the first place.

* Progressive Democrats: As the process has unfolded this year, the public option went from being a liberal wish-list measure to becoming the liberal make-or-break measure. There’s a real risk that the left will balk at the reform bill — no matter what else is in it — if there’s no public option, and if liberals withhold their support, reform will die.

I suspect the phone lines in the West Wing and the congressional liaison office are going to be ringing quite a bit today.