The major point of contention between the White House and congressional Democrats is now whether a public option for insurance coverage has the 60 votes needed for passage in the Senate. In reporting our piece on the state of play in the health care reform debate, Ryan Grim and I heard the same refrain from a number of sources: Majority Leader Harry Reid's office thinks it can get the support needed to pass a public option with an opt-out provision for states. The White House thinks that Reid's whip count is too optimistic.
Part of the administration's reasoning is that if you don't have Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) on board, you end up losing the votes of a handful of conservative Democrats. So White House officials are pushing an alternative proposal that would have the public plan "triggered" in by economic conditions.
But the equation is more complicated than that. Increasingly, there are senators on the liberal side of the spectrum who say they won't pass a plan that includes the trigger provision.
"To me that would be a very serious gap and it would be a very strong reason not to support it," Sen. Russ Feingold told CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday. "We need a public option. We need something that would cause some control over the abuses that have occurred in the insurance industry."
Triggers, Feingold added, are "just an invitation for the insurance industry to manipulate the situation for a couple of years just so they can avoid the trigger and so they can convince members of Congress to delay it again. We need to do something now."
Feingold did not say (nor was he asked) if he would participate in a filibuster of a bill that included triggers instead of an opt-out public plan. And that seems likely to be the major question mark going forward. While conservative Democrats may be comfortable allowing the broader effort to pass health care reform fail over their objections to the public plan, it's not clear if their progressive counterparts will make that leap.