Where we stand

WHERE WE STAND…. Jonathan Cohn noted early this morning, “Thursday was as crazy a day as I’ve seen in Washington.” Things did get pretty nutty yesterday, with a sudden and unexpected flurry of activity on health care reform and the public option. Cohn added, “[O]ver the course of the day, one thing became increasingly clear. At least for the moment, the debate isn’t over whether to include a public option. It’s over what kind.”

Some of the reports yesterday proved more reliable than others, so let’s take stock and review where we stand this morning. At this point, it seems Harry Reid is inclined to gamble on a reform bill that includes a public option, with the state opt-out compromise.

In pushing to include a government-run health insurance plan in the health care bill, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, is taking a calculated gamble that the 60 members of his caucus could support the plan if it included a way for states to opt out.

Mr. Reid met with President Obama at the White House Thursday to inform him of his inclination to add the public option to the bill, but did not specifically ask the president to endorse that approach, a Democratic aide said. Mr. Obama asked questions, but did not express a preference at the meeting, a White House official said.

Mr. Reid’s outlook was shaped, in part, by opinion polls showing public support for a government insurance plan, which would compete with private insurers.

Now, ABC News reported mid-day that Reid believes he has the votes in place to pass the reform bill with the public option. While the Majority Leader’s office was content to let some scuttlebutt go without comment, this wasn’t one of them — multiple reports indicated that Reid has not lined up the votes, at least not yet.

And therein lies the gamble: Reid apparently intends to move forward with the bill he wants, and expects to line up the necessary support on the floor.

By all indications, Max Baucus isn’t happy with this turn of events, and Olympia Snowe keeps telling anyone who’ll listen how much she dislikes the public option (read: she’s not voting for it). That said, Reid is sending up one giant trial balloon, waiting/watching to see just how apoplectic possible opponents become, and the reaction from the center-right has been fairly muted. Fears of an automatic, open revolt against the effort hasn’t materialized. In other words, so far so good for reformers.

And where, pray tell, has this momentum for the public option come from? Brian Beutler reported, “According to a source close to negotiations, it came from [Wednesday] night’s closed door meeting between Senate and White House officials, with the push coming from Democratic leadership.”

“It came out at last night’s meeting,” the source indicated. “It was indicated that based on some surveying that had been done of the moderates, that it doesn’t so far seem like they would jump out of their skin as long as they have an opportunity to vote to strip it.”

That’s an interesting point to keep in mind. If the bill comes to the floor with the public option, and that seems to be where we’re headed, Democratic opponents of the measure will get the chance to vote on an amendment to take it out. Reid and other leaders know that vote will fail — there’s no way to find 60 votes against a public option — but Landrieu and other Democratic opponents will be able to tell their constituents and insurance-company allies, “Look, I voted specifically against the idea.”

There will be more discussions today. Stay tuned.