More details have emerged from the negotiations that emerged last night. What was reported last night as discussions with Lincoln, Pryor and handful of others has now emerged. Politico is reporting that it's a group that does include leadership in this debate.
The moderate Democrats –Lincoln, Mark Pryor (Ark.), Ben Nelson (Neb.), Thomas Carper (Del.) and Mary Landrieu (La.) – attended each session. Harkin, Rockefeller, Brown and Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) represented the liberals. Sen. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), another participant, has served as an intermediary between the two sides.
The Senate leadership is still eyeing Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), who has maintained regular contact with moderate Democrats in recent weeks. She participated in a separate meeting Saturday of moderates.
Here's Sherrod Brown's description of the latest non-public option compromise proposal:
Brown described it as a take-off of the Federal Employee Health Benefits Plan. With the Office of Personnel Management as the administrator, the program would be separate from the Department of Health and Human Services, which regulates the insurance marketplace.
"It would be a national, not-for-profit," Brown said. "(The Office of Personnel Management) would administer it. It would be any number of national not-for-profits that would compete nationally and they would take the place – more conservative members hope – of the public option. They would be in states and be running a kind of lookalike to a public option."
The nonprofit insurance companies would "go to OPM and say I want to compete and then you show them you’ve got standing to compete," Brown said.
Existing insurance companies could participate as long as their plan is not-for-profit, he said....
Brown, however, said he is not a convert to the latest proposal. Supporters of the public option have already compromised enough, he said.
"Well, I don't think much of it, frankly, compared to a public option," Brown said. "I'm willing to talk to anybody about anything but they haven't sold it yet."
It's not a public option. It's essentially an exchange within the exchange. Now maybe it's a good substitution for the exchanges--just open up the FEHBP to people instead of creating, in the House's case a national exchange, or in the Senate version multiple exchanges. If they got rid of the exchanges in return for this, it would get rid of the Ben Nelson/Bart Stupak political problem (though it would still extend the Hyde problem to millions of women) by getting rid of the need for their amendment.
But it's still not a public option, like most of the "compromises" we've seen floated in the Senate. Here's Jacob Hacker, the healthcare expert who authored the original public option idea, on the latest developments.
They represent abandonment of the public plan idea altogether. One proposal that is being floated, for example, is the chartering of a national nonprofit plan, similar to the "cooperatives" that Senator Kent Conrad has advocated. But the whole point of the public plan is to create a plan that is up and running quickly and constructed on the existing infrastructure of Medicare so that it can create competitive pressure for insurers and serve as a backup for consumers on day one. In 35 states, after all, the largest private insurer enrolls more than half of privately insured patients. Many of these plans are nonprofits already--the problem is that they don’t face a credible alternative.
Another, even stranger idea is to offer the nonprofit plans available in the Federal Employees Health Benefit Plan (FEHBP) within the exchange. Since the FEHBP is itself a form of exchange, this amounts to offer a new set of private plans within a new set of private plans. How is that going to provide real pressure on private insurers in a consolidated insurance market in which nonprofit plans already have a large presence (and often act little differently from for-profit plans)?
In short, the new compromise proposals are anything but. They represent calls for advocates of the public plan to eat their crumbs and be happy. But a majority of Senators support the public plan. At least two--Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont and Senator Burris of Illinois--have said having a real public plan in the legislation is a precondition for their support. Those who believe in the public plan—and, more important, who believe in the principle it embodies: that no American who lacks access to good insurance should be forced to buy coverage from the private plans that got us into our present mess--should stand firm in the face of these non-compromises.
This includes President Obama. He made the public plan part of his promise of change in 2008. Now he needs to put his weight and influence behind the public plan and its essential goals, rather than allow them to be gutted. This is in our nation’s interest. It is also in his and his party’s political interest. A bill that forces people to take private insurance but doesn’t create competition or a public benchmark is a prescription for unaffordable coverage, runaway costs, and political backlash. The "middle ground" is nowhere to stand if it’s going to crumble beneath you. [emphasis mine]
Brown echoed that sentiment:
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who has been publicly urging the president to get more involved, said earlier on Saturday that Obama should make a strong pitch for the current Senate bill.
"I’d like to hear him push what we’re doing," he said. "I like the bill now the way it is, the president pushing the people who are more reluctant to vote for it, to vote for it."
The President is meeting with the caucus now, and the negotiations within the caucus will continue this afternoon. We'll probably see tomorrow whether Obama has decided to use his bully pulpit to bring the handful of ConservaDems into the fold, or to force everyone else to bend to their will.
If this OPM thing does end up being the compromise they settle on and they abandon any semblance of a public option, there are a few things the progressives should insist upon in return: no mandate, increased affordability, and the idea that Howard Dean started floating this summer--lower Medicare eligibility to age 55 in year one. It wouldn't be comprehensive healthcare reform, but it would be significant help.
Update: Obama did not talk about the public option in today's meeting with Dem Senators, according to Lieberman and Reid.