Possible Death of the Public Option: What’s the Big Deal?

"Look, kids, there’s the chasm between the parties on health-care reform."
Photo: Getty Images

The big news in the ongoing battle for health-care reform is that the White House may be backing away from a public option, which President Obama has said he favors as a way to reduce costs and ensure that most Americans obtain insurance. But how significant is this development, really? As it turns out, despite the popularity of the public option on the left, many pundits always expected it to be dropped at some point, and believe the reaction to the administration’s supposed shift is overblown.

• Karen Tumulty says that the possible end of the public option isn’t actually a big shift at all. President Obama "has never presented the public option as anything other than a means to an end — one that he would be perfectly willing to achieve through other avenues if necessary. His goal is twofold: to provide a low-cost alternative to the private system that already exists and to assure competition in a health-care market where it is generally lacking." [Time]

• Ezra Klein says the real story is that it may be "increasingly likely that the White House will have to compromise on the public option because it will not be able to find sufficient votes in the Senate and is growing more desperate for a deal." But it’s not news that the administration doesn’t see the public option as vital. "It has always supported a public-plan option. It has never claimed it essential, or the only path to competition in the insurance market." [Ezra Klein/WP]

• Marc Ambinder writes that if, like a lot of "angry liberals" right now, "you equate health-care reform with a public option, then, well, health-care reform is dead to you." But Obama had always intended to use the public option "as a bargaining chip. It was on the table so it could be consumed, or taken off, whenever the White House felt it was useful." As long as there’s something in the bill, like a health-care co-op, that would "cover most of the uninsured," he'll be happy. [The Atlantic]

• John Nichols insists that "[w]ithout a robust public option, what the Obama administration and compromised Democrats in the House and Senate are talking about is not 'health-care reform.'" It could even create a system worse than the one we have now. [Beat/Nation]

• Nate Silver thinks the public option is "probably" dead, but it may have never been "alive" to begin with — that is, it may never have the votes to pass in the Senate. From a political standpoint, it still makes sense for Democrats to pass a bill without a public option, though only if they're getting something in return to make these bills better. And from a policy standpoint, a bill without a public option would still contain "major, major accomplishments." [Five Thirty Eight]

• Michelle Malkin believes that talk of dropping the public option is neither a misstatement nor a surrender flag, but simply "a trial balloon to measure the potential nutroots backlash versus the potential Senate pick-ups." [Michelle Malkin]

• Craig Crawford blames Obama’s "less-than-convincing presidential endorsement" for the potential failure of the public option. [Trail Mix/CQ Politics]

• Chuck Todd and friends aren’t surprised at all about the public-option chatter since "this is where we’ve been headed all along. It began months ago when President Obama refused to make a public-health-insurance option a non-negotiable part of any reform." The problem with a co-op is that it’s not easy to explain exactly what one is. [First Read/MSNBC]

• Steve Benen asks whether Republicans will be more likely to support health-care reform now that they’ve lost their "favorite, and perhaps most effective, talking point." His answer: No. [Political Animal/Washington Monthly]

• Jacob Goldstein thinks a plan involving co-ops has "the ring of compromise — it could provide competition for private insurers, as many Democrats want, without creating a new government-insurance program, which many Republicans oppose." [Health Blog/WSJ]

• Steve Kornacki tries to figure out "what the administration is gaining from abandoning the public option." Just a couple of Republican Senate votes? Or are they "calculating that the headlines generated by making a significant concession will move the polls" toward health-care reform in general? [PolitickerNY]

• Brian Beutler points out that Obama has actually been "all over the map on the importance of the public option ever since it became the main battleground of the health-care-reform fight, pitting liberals against skeptics and raising the ire of reform opponents." [TPM DC]

• Joe Klein isn’t the least surprised, and "never had much interest in a public option" to begin with, but he wonders: "If this was a quid, what was the quo? Which votes on the Senate Finance Committee did Obama secure by dropping the option? Is there a majority of the Committee prepared to vote for...well, we’re not sure what they may or may not be prepared to vote for, since the actual contents of the bill remain mirage-y." [Swampland/Time]

• Matthew Yglesias thinks "too much is being made of the latest comments from administration officials regarding the public option." This is pretty much still the status quo. [Think Progress]