What looked earlier in the day like a trial balloon being floated by someone in the White House regarding last night's meeting with Senate leadership on healthcare reform is gaining legs. Politico's Mike Allen reports that Obama told leadership his preference is for the Snowe Trigger. CNN likewise reports that Obama's preference is the trigger, because he wants to keep the bill "bipartisan."
Both of these reports are unsourced, Allen just stating it as fact, CNN using the "source familiar with." Should they thus be totally discounted? No. Not in the sense that it's very possible that someone associated with the proceedings is trying to raise a little hell or at least a trial balloon or two by leaking this story to a couple of outlets, while others get a different story.
We should take these reports seriously particularly now, when Brian Beutler is confirming the story, reporting that multiple sources confirm it:
Multiple sources tell TPMDC that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is very close to rounding up 60 members in support of a public option with an opt out clause, and are continuing to push skeptical members. But they also say that the White House is pushing back against the idea, in a bid to retain the support of Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME).
"They're skeptical of opt out and are generally deferential to the Snowe strategy that involves the trigger," said one source close to negotiations between the Senate and the White House. "they're certainly not calming moderate's concerns on opt out."
This new development, which casts the White House as an opponent of all but the most watered down form of public option, is likely to yield backlash from progressives, especially those in the House who have been pushing for a more maximal version of reform.
It also suggests for perhaps the first time that the White House's supposed hands off approach that ostensibly allowed the two chambers in Congress to craft their own bill has been discarded.
If true, Obama is going to have some strong opposition in both the House and Senate. An indication of that, and also a possible confirmation that there's pressure coming from the White House on the trigger, comes in the form of a statement from Jay Rockefeller today:
In a statement issued apparently in response to news that the White House is leaning towards the so-called "trigger" approach, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) said the following.
"Historically, 'trigger' mechanisms have not been successful, and they are not a substitute for a strong public health insurance option, A 'trigger' simply delays price competition, which in turn will delay affordability for consumers and moves us farther away from the goals of health care reform. Already, we are seeing insurance companies threatening to game the system, by raising their prices in advance of reform. The only way to curb price-gouging by health insurance companies is with real competition on day one--that is the public option."
So what is it, Mr. Obama? Public statements from various White House officials that "the public option is the best way to achieve choice and competition," or we can hold off on that choice and competition a few more years because President Snowe doesn't like the idea?
This is indeed snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Reid is nearly there on cloture vote with the public option. The only point here would be being able to call the thing "bipartisan." Guess what? No one outside of the Village gives a shit if it's bipartisan. Particularly the Democratic base that needs to be energized in 2010 for turnout.
Harry Reid is the one that is most at risk here. He's the one running for re-election in 2010. Pushing back against the President isn't going to be easy, but if he wants to keep his job, if he wants to keep strong majorities in both chambers of Congress, that's exactly what he needs to do.