Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid just announced that the consolidated Senate health care bill would include a government plan that states would be able to opt out of by 2014.
During an afternoon news conference Reid acknowledged that inclusion of the government plan would likely mean the defection of the lone Republican who has supported this bill, Olympia Snowe. He said he was "disappointed" that the creation of a government plan "frightened" Snowe, but said he hoped she would eventually come back to supporting legislation.
By losing Snowe, Reid is taking a huge gamble that every Democrat in the chamber -- even the handful opposing a government plan -- will stand with him and provide the 60 votes needed to block a Republican filibuster, even if it means that some will ultimately vote against the actual bill.
Reid said he was sending the new proposals to the Congressional Budget Office for evaluation later today, but that he would not be asking them to evaluate a proposal to "trigger" a government plan if certain metrics weren't met, which is the favored approach of Snowe.
The consolidated bill would also allow for the creation of "co-ops," which were once viewed as a substitute for a government plan but would now be offered in addition. The "co-ops" would be non-profit insurers who would enjoy tax exempt status.
Right now, the most likely Democrats to oppose the government plan would be Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, with independent Joe Lieberman being another wildcard. While Sens. Kent Conrad and Max Baucus had also opposed a form of the government plan, they would likely go along with the current bill. Baucus's main objection to a government plan was that it wouldn't get enough votes, but he was in the negotiations with Reid for the past several weeks, so presumably he signed off on the new proposal. And Conrad's main objection was to a government plan based on Medicare rates, which he said would bankrupt hospitals in his state of North Dakota. Presumably, he'd be able to get behind a bill that didn't tie payment rates to Medicare and that would allow North Dakota to opt out.
The big question is whether conservative voters in red states can put enough pressure on the remaining Democratic Senators to make them more afraid of defying their constituents than they are of defying Reid.
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