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Now The White House Is Pushing The Trigger: The Fog Of Washington

And the yo-yo moves back up.

TPM gets multiple sources confirming earlier reporting, which was denied at one point, that the President prefers the trigger option that would keep Olympia Snowe (R-ME) in the fold on an overall health care bill to a public option with an opt-out mechanism for the states, a version Harry Reid is within a couple votes of nailing down.

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 comes on the heels of Snowe all but ruling out any option other than a trigger, reiterating that on Bloomberg with Al Hunt by saying, “The public option at the forefront really does put the government in a disproportionate position” and that she wouldn’t support any such efforts.

Rahm Emanuel in particular has been pushing the trigger for months. It’s a classic Washington compromise, and if this reporting is correct, one that the White House is now pushing, so they can maintain a patina of bipartisanship.

Trying to pre-empt this, Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), who has warmed to the opt-out in recent days, issued a release strongly pushing back against the trigger.

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.

Keep in mind that so much of this is a shadow play, or at least potentially so. Is the White House “insisting” on triggers to take the heat off of Harry Reid, who is having trouble finding the last votes for cloture? Are they drawing fire away from Senate moderates? Are they doing it to keep Snowe thinking the White House is on her side? Do they want to pull a switcheroo in conference committee? Do they actually think that the public option will need some time to get right, so a trigger might help to aid that delay? Are these the words of one rogue faction in the White House that can’t stand the public option and the “left of the left”?

There’s no way to really tell at this point. But it certainly will become clear with the inevitable actions. And until that time, I agree that Harry Reid, as the leader of an independent branch of the government, can actually make his own decision regarding this, and if he finds 60 votes, the White House’s desires to placate President Snowe really shouldn’t have any bearing on what he does.

…Mary Landrieu’s softening on the whole public option thing shows that Reid is making progress and could bring this home regardless of the White House’s preferences.

…Chris Bowers narrows it down to Evan Bayh and (probably) Ben Nelson. And of course there’s Snowe, who the White House is dying to tout in a press release.

I think the best guess you can make of all this hash is that the White House is running their own parallel whip count and doesn’t trust Reid’s numbers and just wants something to pass and thinks that anything with Snowe on board will.

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David Dayen

David Dayen