You can view these “deals” in the Senate on health care as similar to a wave. We hear about them at the crest of the wave, and sometimes they sound pretty good. Then the wave crashes.

While some are celebrating the newest public option compromise as a solution to the political deadlock on Capitol Hill, Senate leaders have already begun watering down some of the strongest elements of the new plan, which is combines a Medicare buy-in, a Medicaid expansion, and the inclusion of private non-profits in the exchange modeled on the federal employees’ plan.

This afternoon, Jay Rockefeller said that the new proposal to expand Medicaid coverage for those who are 133% to 150% above the federal poverty line was dropped during a meeting of key legislators this morning. “I was sad this morning,” Rockefeller told me and a few other reporters. “We walked in, and it was 133[%] to 140[%], then it’s staying at 133… So we didn’t get anything.”

That’s not all. There’s talk of only allowing the Medicare buy-in between now and 2014 as a stop-gap measure, limiting availability to those on the exchanges, and changing the rate schedule from Medicare for these buy-in folks to negotiated rates. So you’d have a – well, a negotiated-rate public option limited to people in the exchange, and only to those aged 55-64.

In other words, practically nothing.

Now, none of these things are definitely in or out. But chasing these deals is like chasing rainbows. There’s simply no telling what will actually end up in them.

Also, keep in mind, the House bill, which already has a public option, insures people in Medicaid at the 150% FPL level. So if by some off chance there’s actually a conference committee, they can argue that there!

Speaking of which, Congress Daily has a bit more on that (sub. reqd.):

The issue was raised at a meeting of top Democratic staffers Friday, several party aides said.

“From a strategic standpoint, the ideal situation is that we do something like” skip the conference, a Democratic leadership aide said. “We’d go into the new year with a major accomplishment. The decks would be cleared, and we can move on to other issues. The longer this plays out, the worse it is for our members.”

Great, so this is all about imagined timelines and “clearing the decks.” Makes sense to invalidate an entire branch of the Congress’ months of work based on that.

Meanwhile, House Democrats are openly discussing killing the bill if they get muzzled:

“We’ve been having some meetings. There are some members that want to do the nuclear option and vote against the bill,” said Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., who spearheaded the letter. “There are others that think we can make the case on the merits.”

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., said today on a conference call with federal employee unions opposed to the excise tax that it stands little chance of being enacted in its present form. “I’ll make a flat out prediction, whatever [Senate Majority Leader Reid] feels he needs to get to 60 [votes] is one thing. … I can assure you the excise tax as currently formulated in the Senate bill will not survive,” said Connolly, who backs a millionaires’ surtax that is the main pay-for in the House bill.

In addition to the excise tax and the public option, abortion and immigration are the key flashpoints.

David Dayen

David Dayen