The Lethal Politics Of The Opt-Out Public Option, Ctd

A reader writes:

I put the opt-out's chances of enactment south of 5%.  Maybe 2-3%, tops.  The only people who believe that it is a "good pragmatic compromise" (as Marshall calls it) are liberals and leftists who favor a strong public option.  Schumer believes it's a good compromise.  So does Bernie Sanders.  Great.  Whatever.  Have you heard a single moderate Democrat other than Baucus endorse it?  Lieberman has already announced he will filibuster.  Given they need all 60 Democrats and Independents, that's game, set, and match. (Or "check-mate", seeing as how you like to speak in terms of Obama the Chessmaster.)

The reason moderates are balking on the public option opt-out is because they see it for what it is -- a false concession.  Your rebuttal to Megan is equally baffling on policy grounds.  The opt-out does not make the public option weak.  It does not change the substance of the "full" public option in any meaningful way.  On process grounds, opting out would be very difficult because it would require two houses of a state legislature to pass a bill and the governor to sign it.  Having even one of those three branches be in Democratic hands likely would end chances of opting out.  And the ability to opt-out expires in 2014.  Furthermore, even if the entire state legislature and governor are philosophically against a national insurance plan, it's a very different thing to turn down a benefit that your state residents are already paying federal taxes to support.  Let's be clear: You cannot opt-out of the taxes to support the program. You can only opt-out of the benefits.

That's like telling states they don't have to take federal highway funding, but their residents still have to pay federal gas taxes.  If you were a state officeholder, you would be guilty of dereliction of duty if you did that to your state residents, conservative philosophy notwithstanding.

Fortunately, moderate Senate Democrats appear to see it for what it is -- even if you and Josh Marshall don't.  It's a national insurance plan with a symbolic gesture intended to provide cover to those who want to claim it's something other than what it is.  That's why even Reid knew it stood no chance when he announced it, as Dana Milbank described brilliantly in his column this morning.

My point is simply that if this gets into the final bill, it will pay dividends for the Democrats in the states - unless it's a dreadful idea that doesn't work and is thereby exposed when put into practice. If the GOP were really convinced this wouldn't work, they'd be happy backing it. Obama, meanwhile, has kept his options open. If the final bill does not contain this, he will not bear the political cost of backing it. Ezra noted the politics of this here. Tumulty sees the local interest of Reid in doing this here.