Threading a very small needle

THREADING A VERY SMALL NEEDLE…. There’s been plenty of talk about a public option compromise for months. And every time is seems a negotiated deal will satisfy various contingents, conservatives insist they’ll need a little more.

Brian Beutler reported last night that another round of talks is poised to get underway.

In light of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s statement tonight — that he welcomes negotiations on a public option compromise — Sen. Chuck Schumer’s spokesman Brian Fallon emails a statement to TPMDC. He says discussions with centrists, such as they are, are in the earliest stages.

“Leading up to tonight’s vote, some senators expressed a desire to discuss the public option currently in the Senate bill. Of course, Senator Schumer did not rule that out. But no such talks have yet taken place, and there is not any compromise at hand beyond what Leader Reid has already inserted into the bill. Senator Schumer remains a strong proponent of the opt-out, level playing field public option.”

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) told TPMDC earlier today that Schumer had been tasked as the point man in negotiations between senators who support a public option, and those who prefer a “trigger” compromise.

I haven’t the foggiest idea how this is going to work out, and I don’t envy Schumer. Liberal Democrats have said they can’t go any further than they’ve already gone; conservative Democrats have said they’d rather join a Republican filibuster than allow the existing public option to even get an up-or-down vote on the floor.

Keep in mind, when progressive Dems argue that they’ve already compromised, they have a very compelling case to make. They started with a desire for Medicare for all. That was negotiated down to a national public option. That, in turn, was negotiated down to a national public option with limited eligibility. That was negotiated down again to a national public option with limited eligibility tied to negotiated reimbursement rates, instead of Medicare rates. In time, that was negotiated down once again, leaving a public option with limited eligibility tied to negotiated reimbursement rates, which any state could choose not to participate in.

And for Republicans and several center-right Dems, this is not only still too high a burden on insurance companies, it’s also worth killing health care reform over. If that strikes you as a rather extreme position to take — we are, after all, just talking about giving consumers a choice between competing plans — we’re on the same page.

If you go with a “trigger,” you lose the center-left and health care reform dies. If you keep the existing compromise, you lose the center-right and health care reform dies. The debate, at that point, becomes a fight over who gets the blame.

There seems to be an assumption that policymakers will “figure something out.” We’ve come this far, and most seem to agree that there will be some kind of deal that helps drag the bill across the finish line. I’m just not sure what that deal would, or could, look like.