Lay of the land

LAY OF THE LAND…. As discussions continue today on the Hill over health care reform, it’s probably worth taking a moment to talk about where we are right now. Last night, the Reid/Baucus/Dodd talks continued, quietly and without any meaningful leaks.

Top Senate Democrats are huddling behind closed doors this evening with key White House advisors in hopes of crafting a health care bill that hits one big magic number: 60.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is the referee between Sen. Max Baucus’ more conservative bill and Sen. Chris Dodd’s more liberal one, and the White House deployed chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and presidential health care adviser Nancy-Ann DeParle.

The talks are covering every relevant detail, but given the larger political dynamic, the popular public option is the focus of considerable interest. Baucus told reporters yesterday that the measure is very much “alive,” though he added some important caveats: “I just don’t know if there is 60 votes for the most pure kinds of the public option. There may be 60 votes for the less pure kinds.”

Given Baucus’ usual dismissal of public-option talk, it’s tempting to consider this encouraging.

He added that the “less pure kinds” include a variety of possible compromises, including the opt-out measure that was all the rage two weeks ago. Baucus called it “new” and “interesting,” though he added that lawmakers are still studying it.

As for the House, Speaker Pelosi, who knows a thing or two about how to get a bill passed, is moving forward with an interesting strategy. She intends to get different CBO scores for different versions of reform, and then, if all goes according to plan, highlight the fact that the bill with the public option is cheaper. At that point, Blue Dogs and other conservatives (in both chambers) would be put to the test — they say they want a cheaper, more fiscally responsible reform plan that emphasizes choice and competition. Do they mean it?

Reid, Baucus, and Dodd are expected to get together again today. Stay tuned.