EJ Dionne asks a good question: why don't centrists approve of the public option?
It doesn't involve a government takeover of the health-care system. The idea is that only consumers who want to enroll in a government-run health plan would do so. Anyone who preferred private insurance could get it.
The public option also uses government exactly as advocates of market economics say it should be deployed: not as a controlling entity but as a nudge toward greater competition. Fans of the market rightly oppose monopolies. But in many places, a small number of insurance companies -- sometimes only one -- dominates the market. The public option is a monopoly-buster.
Centrists tell us they want to hold down spending and fight deficits. Strong versions of the public option, as the Congressional Budget Office showed in its scoring of Sen. Jay Rockefeller's proposal, cut the costs of insuring everyone.
My view on the public option has always been that I'll know whether I like the idea when I see it explained. The problem is that the idea has been pitched as all things to all men. Centrist voters are told it won't make much difference. Progressive voters are told it will make so much difference that the entire project is a waste of time without it.
Dionne does that very thing in recounting the public option's virtues. The public option cannot be both an ordinary competitor, leaving your circumstances unchanged if you choose not to take it up, and a force that can balance the budget by squeezing hundreds of billions out of public health-care costs. It can be one of these or the other but not both.