The politics of the opt-out compromise

THE POLITICS OF THE OPT-OUT COMPROMISE…. There are credible and compelling arguments against the state opt-out compromise for the public option. I tend to think the approach would work fairly well, however, substantive concerns that have been raised are not without merit.

But in the short term, the politics of the proposal are worth considering. Josh Marshall noted the other day, “A big argument from Republicans was that the public option would force people into ‘government health care’ or in various other ways destroy the universe. The opt-out just says: ‘fine, then don’t allow it in your state. Next …’ That takes a lot of the wind out of the sails of that argument.”

Now, we know that these responses only go so far. Republicans routinely repeat talking points long after they’ve been debunked, and cling to arguments long after they’ve been exposed as nonsensical. (Occasionally, you’ll still hear random nuts talking about “death panels.”)

But Josh’s point is nevertheless compelling. It should be a fairly persuasive pitch to reasonable people: we’ll give eligible consumers a choice between competing public and private plans. If people don’t like the idea of a government plan, they can reject it. And if individual states don’t like the idea of giving consumers that choice, they can decide to remove it. Multiple levels of choice and competition — what’s so awful about that?

Andrew Sullivan took this one step further yesterday, gaming out the politics if this plan becomes law. He called a “brutal” strategy being launched by Dems.

[T]here has to be a debate in every state in which Republicans, where they hold a majority or the governorship, will presumably decide to deny their own voters the option to get a cheaper health insurance plan. When others in other states can get such a plan, will there not be pressure on the GOP to help their own base? Won’t Bill O’Reilly’s gaffe – when he said what he believed rather than what Roger Ailes wants him to say – be salient? Won’t many people – many Republican voters – actually ask: why can’t I have what they’re having?

This is why this is lethal…. Imagine Republicans in state legislatures having to argue and posture against an affordable health insurance plan for the folks, as O’Reilly calls them, while evil liberals provide it elsewhere. Now, of course, if the public option is a disaster in some states, this argument could work in the long run. But in the short run? It’s [a] political nightmare for the right as it is currently constituted. In fact, I can see a public option becoming the equivalent of Medicare in the public psyche if it works as it should. Try running against Medicare.

The genius of the opt-out is that it co-opts the states’ rights argument (just as ending the prohibition on marijuana does); it has the potential to make “liberalism’ popular again; it has easily demonized opponents – the health insurance industry; and it forces Republicans not to rail against socialism in the abstract but to oppose actual benefits for the working poor in reality.

Sounds right to me. Kevin Drum added, “If it passes, then for the next four years Republican state legislators all over the country will be teaming up with the universally loathed insurance industry to try and deny their citizens access to a program that, to most of them, sounds like a pretty good deal. I don’t know if Harry Reid was deviously thinking exactly that thought when he decided on this, but I’ll bet someone was. It’s hard to think of something that could force the GOP to make itself even more unpopular than it already is, but this might be it.”

Of course, it’s a moot point if Lieberman, Nelson, Lincoln, and Landrieu won’t even let the Senate vote on the bill.