Pelosi satisfied with opt-out compromise

PELOSI SATISFIED WITH OPT-OUT COMPROMISE…. There’s some momentum in the Senate for a health care reform bill with a public option and opt-out compromise. In the House, leaders are still eyeing a robust public option. Any chance we’re headed for a showdown between the chambers on the kind of public option to make it to the final bill?

Probably not.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said Friday that states might be able to “opt out” of any nationwide government insurance plan, a compromise that she suggested could unify congressional Democrats and enable President Obama to sign a healthcare overhaul bill later this year.

Pelosi remains a leading champion of the “public option,” which would establish a federal health insurance program that would give consumers who don’t get coverage through their employer an alternative to plans offered by commercial insurers. But she told reporters at the Capitol that she did not “think there’s much problem” with the opt-out alternative, which had sparked interest among moderate Democrats in the Senate.

Specifically, asked about the opt-out measure, the House Speaker told reporters, “I don’t think there’s much problem with that.” House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) added, “All they’re debating is whether or not to allow states to opt out of it, but you’ll still have the same public option.”

Both prefer the robust public option, of course, but like some other progressive reform leaders — Jay Rockefeller, Howard Dean, even Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) — they’ve come to see the opt-out compromise as tolerable.

Part of this is important because it signals some key common ground between the chambers, which may eventually matter a great deal. But I’m especially interested in how it might affect negotiations regarding Olympia Snowe’s “trigger” idea.

By most accounts, Harry Reid is close to lining up the necessary support for the opt-out measure, but let’s not forget, Reid is also counting votes for a trigger, and probably has even more votes for that approach. It’s why the White House is hedging — it wants a bill and it has more confidence in the one that has more votes. The Senate leadership, as of last night, was still “considering” the various alternatives, and it seems many, if not all, of the Democratic senators willing to vote for the opt-out could just as easily vote for the trigger if it’s the bill that comes to the floor.

It’s why I wonder if the House approach may end up tipping the scales a bit. Pelosi doesn’t have 218 votes for a robust public option, at least not yet, but she can almost certainly line up more than enough support for the opt-out, and her remarks yesterday suggest she’d be satisfied with this outcome. But if the Senate moves from the opt-out to the trigger, there’s a problem — it’s a bridge too far for more than a few House progressives.

In effect, the Speaker’s office has a compelling message to Reid and Obama: “I can pass the opt-out, but not the trigger, so let’s go with the former*, lock down 60 votes in the Senate, and get this thing done.”

* fixed