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It's more than clear the Blue Dogs and conservadems are trying to cram worthless, sell-out public option triggers down our collective progressive throats as hard and as fast as possible.  A "trigger" means that the public option would only take effect if the private health insurance industry failed to meet some set of guidelines.

Unfortunately, President Obama greenlighted this "compromise" offer in his health care speech Wednesday night:

"Some have suggested that the public option go into effect only in those markets where insurance companies are not providing affordable policies." Others, he added, have proposed "a co-op or another non-profit entity to administer the plan. These are all constructive ideas worth exploring."

As a result, we get this:

When President Obama met with the Moderate Dems Working Group on Thursday, the panel's co-chair urged him to bridge divisions within the Democratic Party by structuring a public insurance option as a "fallback" and not as a first resort.

"If there is no meaningful competition after a couple of years, we would create competition through a public plan," said Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., in an interview with ABC News. "I think that could end up being the compromise because it bridges the differences between those who are for a robust public option and those who are adamantly opposed to a public option."

...and this from Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.):

Clyburn told reporters he could live with a trigger that didn’t kick in for three years if it included a "widespread" pilot program that tested the effectiveness of the public option in states that decided to participate.

...and this from Susan Collins and Lieberloser:

However, Collins and Lieberman both told The Hill they are more supportive of a "trigger" concept floated by Collins's Senate colleague, Maine Republican Olympia Snowe, which calls for a public option to be implemented if insurance companies fail to fix the current system's cost inefficiencies.

...and this from Mike Ross' office:

"The trigger is something the Blue Dogs have supported from the beginning," said Brad Howard, spokesman for Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark., who heads the Blue Dogs' health-care task force.

By supporting a trigger, Obama could still make the argument to liberal Democrats that he has not abandoned the prospect of a government-run plan, also called a "public option," which much of the House Democratic leadership have said must be part of any health-care legislation.

...and this from Ben Nelson:

"If, somehow, the private market doesn't respond the way that it's supposed to (to other aspects of health care reform), then it would trigger a public option or a government-run option," Nelson said, "but only as a fail-safe, backstop to the process."

...and this in just today from Spineless Harry Reid:

Some liberals, however, including Senate Democratic leaders, signaled that they could accept something less (than a public option) eventually.

``The public option is in the eye of the beholder,'' said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. ``There are different types of public options. We're going to look at all of them.''

So we're headed for a trigger showdown. Saddle up, fellow progressives, come fully armed to the fight, and be sure to put your copy of Slate's "Triggernometry: The Trouble with Olympia Snowe's 'trigger' compromise" by Timothy Noah in your saddlebag.

The idea of a legislative trigger to get Congress to do later something that it doesn't want to do now is not new. Such triggers have an excellent track record of demonstrating resolve where none exists. But as a policy mechanism, they have nearly always failed.

Noah's article is a must-read. He explores what happened with previous triggers "implemented" by Congress:

--the War Powers Resolution trigger of 1973 (FAIL)
--the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act trigger of 1978 (EPIC FAIL)
--the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Balanced Budget Act trigger of 1985 (EPIC FAIL)
--the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act trigger of 1996 (EPIC FAIL)
--the Medicare trigger of 2003 (EPIC FAIL)

The trigger compromise fantasy coming to a theater near you very soon is likely to take on other trigger language: "hard" vs "soft." Noah explains the supposed differences between them. Theoretically "a soft trigger provides maximum latitude; a hard trigger, almost none."  But Noah continues that what happens in reality is that lobbyists and lawyers find all kinds of ways to put loopholes in the language so that a trigger is guaranteed to never be pulled.


It's almost impossible to imagine a truly hard trigger mandating the creation of a public option should the insurance companies misbehave. Jost points out that it will take a couple of years after the target date just to assemble the data necessary to establish whether insurers are in or out of compliance. But let's assume the insurance lobby doesn't load up the trigger with so many conditions that the trigger becomes impossible to pull. Let's also assume Congress is faced with an unambiguous requirement to create a public-option program. Such a requirement will still be extremely difficult to fulfill because—unlike the decision to write a check or not write a check—creation of a government-health-insurance program doesn't result from a simple binary calculation.

Congress can't just say, "Abracadabra, we have a public option." It will have to decide how the public option will work. In theory, the current health reform bill could spell this out in exquisite detail, using language in bills that have already cleared House and Senate committees. But in practice, it seems doubtful that today's opponents of a public option, if their opposition proves successful, will agree to allow the language enacting it provisionally into the bill. Even if they do, the simple fact will remain: If Congress doesn't want to create a public option after the trigger is pulled, no one will make it do so.

A triggered public option is a worthless piece of crap and is designed to do one thing: keep a public option from ever getting off the ground. It is dressed up as an olive branch. But it's really a chainsaw.

Originally posted to irmaly on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 09:50 AM PDT.

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