There was never close to enough support in the Senate for a “Medicare for all” type of public health-insurance plan. There wasn’t even enough support for one that was available to only a small amount of people. So it was weakened further — states would have the opportunity to opt out if they felt like it. But three Democrats, Joe Lieberman, and the Maine mavericks didn’t care for that one, either, which, along with liberal senators’ insistence for a public option in some form or another, created an impasse that continues to imperil health-care reform. So, to overcome this hurdle (still not the only one left, but an important one), Majority Leader Harry Reid has tasked Delaware senator Tom Carper with finding some kind of solution. And though Carper isn’t revealing the exact details of the new, sexy public option he’ll likely unveil next week, he’s been the impetus behind an idea known as “the Hammer” throughout the health-care debate.
So what is “the Hammer”? No, Carper will not be stalking the halls of the Hart Senate Office Building, threatening to bash any senator who continues to withhold support for the bill. Simply, it’s a provision that will only put the public option into effect for states “where insurance companies fail to meet standards of availability and affordability of plans” — i.e., states that need it. It might also allow other states to opt in if they feel like it. Frankly, we don’t get why this would be more palatable to public-option-wary moderates than an opt-out clause, but it’s pretty similar to Olympia Snowe’s personal favorite, the trigger proposal (except that it goes into effect immediately). Carper says he’s been in close consultation with Snowe, Lieberman, and Democratic holdout Blanche Lincoln, so he’ll know exactly what kind of proposal they’d be willing to get behind. Is that a light at the end of the tunnel we see? Or just the Stupak Express headed straight for us?