Ezra Klein, who seems to know his way around the healthcare reform process from the inside has this on the White House/Senate negotiations:
Within the last week, Chuck Schumer moved from talking to various senators about a national public option with a state opt-out clause to actually conducting something of a whip count on the proposal. His team found that a number of moderates didn't love the idea, and might vote to strip it on the floor, but it wasn't enough to push them toward a filibuster. At about this point, Harry Reid began sending out some feelers of his own, and the response was positive enough that he warmed to including it in the bill.
Then Max Baucus held a meeting.
Here, stories begin to diverge. Depending on who you talk to, Baucus either held a routine, informational meeting telling the Senate moderates and members of the Senate Finance Committee what's going on, as he's been doing fairly regularly, or he held a meeting in which he tried to rally Senate moderates to change Reid's mind. Or maybe there's no difference between the two. The first to really speak out after the meeting was Sen. Ben Nelson, and, as one staffer pointed out, Nelson didn't need Baucus to remind him that he was opposed to a national public option. Soon enough, Olympia Snowe was also making firm statements against the public option, and threatening a filibuster.
On Thursday night, Reid went over to the White House for a talk with the president. The conversation centered on Reid's desire to put Schumer's national opt-out plan into the base bill. White House officials were not necessarily pleased, and they made that known. Everyone agrees that they didn't embrace Reid's new strategy. Everyone agrees that the White House wants Snowe on the bill, feels the trigger offers a safer endgame, and isn't convinced by Reid's math. But whether officials expressed a clear preference for the trigger, or were just worried about the potential for 60 votes, is less clear. One staffer briefed on the conversation says "the White House basically told us, 'We hope you guys know what you're doing.'"
And now from Greg Sargent, the Senate is whipping the trigger, and it's getting traction.
According to a plugged in Senate Democratic aide, Senate leadership aides are also counting Senate votes for the trigger, because they want to know which version of the public option can get through the Senate.
And in a development that may upset progressives, this aide says, the trigger is actually closer to getting 60 votes in the Senate right now — it’s two or three votes away — than the opt-out option is. (One complicating factor here: Senator Jay Rockefeller has said he won’t vote for the trigger.)
The Senate leadership, the aide says, is counting up support for all the options — the trigger, the opt-out, and even the opt-in, where states would decide whether to have a public option.
This doesn’t necessarily mean, by the way, that there’s a real chance that Harry Reid will go with the trigger in the end — the aide says he just wants to know how many votes there are for every option. [emphasis mine]
Among uber-cautious Senate moderates, it's not surprising that the trigger would appeal. They're great on making threats that maybe they'll take strong action without ever really taking that strong action. But they, and Harry Reid, need to know that a triggered public option, particulalry Snowe's which sets a ridiculously high trigger point, isn't a public option, and it won't be accepted as such by anyone.
Sherrod Brown and his 30 fellow Senators who cosigned a letter to leadership demanding a public option need to stand with Rockefeller in opposing the trigger. While Reid is doing his vote counting, he needs to know how many votes won't be there for a trigger.