This from ABC's Jonathon Karl is fun:
I am told that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is leaning toward including the creation of a new government-run insurance program – the so-called public option – in the health care reform bill he will bring to the full Senate in the coming weeks.
Democratic sources tell me that Reid – after a series of meetings with Democratic moderates – has concluded he can pass a bill with a public option.
This is not because there has been a new groundswell of support for the idea. In fact, there are still a handful of Democrats who -- along with Olympia Snowe and every other Republican – oppose the idea. As recently as this morning, Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA), for one, dismissed recent polls that show public support for the idea, telling NPR, "I think if you asked, do you want a public option but it would force the government to go bankrupt, people would say no."
That would appear to be a problem because Reid needs 60 votes to pass a health care bill and there are simply not 60 Senators who support a public option. But Reid is now convinced that Democratic critics of the public option will support him when it counts – on the procedural motion, which requires 60 votes, to defeat a certain GOP-led filibuster of the bill. Once the filibuster is beaten, it only takes 51 votes to pass the bill.
This is not a done deal. I am told that Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) – who worked for months to get Olympia Snowe’s support for the bill and has consistently said a public option cannot pass the Senate – was apoplectic when Reid told him he wanted to include the public option. "Baucus went to DEFCON 1," said a source familiar with the negotiations, referring to the alert level the military uses for an imminent attack on the homeland.
Mary Landrieu, who obviously doesn't read the news and is unaware of the most recent CBO scoring of the public option aside, this is guardedly good news, depending on who the "Democratic sources" are. But it does bolster a TPMDC story that consensus is emerging among moderates and in the White House toward the public option in the form of an opt-out, which is what Karl is reporting Reid wants to include.
Two high profile conservative Democrats are saying they hear that Senate and White House health care negotiators are leaning toward including the public option in the base bill that they bring to the Senate floor.
"I keep hearing there is a lot of leaning toward some sort of national public option, unfortunately, from my standpoint," said Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE). "I still believe a state-based approach is the way in which to go. So I'm not being shy about making that point."
"What I'm hearing is this is the direction of the conversation," said Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND).
Carper, who had the original opt in idea, also says this is where the bill is headed. And the left flank of Senate Dems, Jay Rockefeller has indicated that he's not entirely opposed to an opt out. The outlines that Carper and Rockefeller have given for their understanding of it--that it would be a national plan that states could only opt out of a year or two after implementation--makes it more attractive for the majority of Dems who want the strong public option. If saying that down the road states can leave is enough to get moderates on board--and the public option in the Senate bill--it seems that many of them will be able to live with that.
Update: Not so fast, says Greg Sargent:
ABC reported today that they have the goods, citing Democratic sources and claiming Reid "has concluded he can pass a bill with a public option." ABC said Reid is now convinced that even if some moderates are still holding out against it, they will ultimately vote for it on the procedural vote to get it past a filibuster.
Not so much, a Senior Senate aide claims. "He has not concluded anything yet," the aide said of Reid. "But he is more optimistic."
Interestingly, though, the aide endorsed Kent Conrad’s claim today that "the direction of the conversation" is towards putting the public option in the final bill.
"He is correct," the aide said of Conrad. "That is where we maybe, again maybe, are headed."
Another trial balloon being floated? It is interesting that Reid's staffer confirmed the Conrad quote, so we do at least know that they're, in Reid's famous words, "leaning" that way.