This is unexpected. A while back, the public option was the only idea wackier and less realistic than the fabled death panels. Two weeks ago, it died again in the Senate Finance Committee (twice). And yet, like a cat or a Terminator, the idea is proving incredibly hard to kill off entirely. The NYT and New York magazine both report that the public option (or whatever you'd prefer to call it) is better than "mostly dead" -- it's possibly viable. How did this happen?


A combination of political pressure and congressional support. The unions are, predictably, making a lot of noise about the absence of a public option. The AFL-CIO, the nation's biggest union, has long said that it won't support a bill that lacks a public option. Other unions are afraid that because the Senate Finance bill taxes their expensive health care plans without providing a public option to fall back on, they're being forced to sacrifice something for nothing. Finally New York's John Heilemann (welcome back John!) takes us into the trenches where public option champion Anthony Weiner continues to be a pain in the White House's collective tuchus about including a government-run program. Heilemann concludes:

To illustrate why that means the public option will prevail, Weiner colorfully sketches out his vision of the endgame: "Obama goes to Nancy and says, 'I've decided I'm giving up the public option.' And she says, 'Well, dude, I can't get this done then.' So then he goes to Harry Reid and says, 'We're going with the public option. What do we have to do in Nebraska to get Ben Nelson onboard?' That's a much easier conversation."

This is what Megan McArdle told me and Dan over lunch about three months ago: That health care reform may ultimately rise and fall on the WH's ability to bribe a handful of conservative Democrats with cash promises. Maybe she and Weiner are right that the difference between a public option and no public option is one big government-sponsored convention center in Lincoln (and Billings? and Little Rock?) Personally, I still kind of like the option that says states can opt out of the public option.

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