The Snowe Job, and Why a "Trigger" for a Public Option is Nonsense.

I was just on the phone talking with a reporter for a national media outlet who referred to Sen. Olympia Snowe's idea for a public option "trigger" as the "centrist position." Whoa. When the mainstream media start naming something as "centrist" the game is almost over because just about everyone with any authority in our nation's capital wants to be at the "center."

Let me back up a step. The public insurance option has become a lightening rod for Republicans, hate radio jocks, Fox News, the Wall Street Journal's editorial page, and lobbyists for the health-industrial complex who accuse the White House and Democrats of planning a "government takeover" of health care. Anything that has the word "public" in it is always an automatic target for their rants. But most Democrats understand that a public insurance option is essential to control health-care costs and expand coverage -- both because private for-profit insurers now face so little competition in most markets that only the prod of a public option will force them to lower costs and extend coverage, and also because a nationwide public option would have the scale and authority to negotiate lower rates with drug companies and health-care providers, thereby pushing private insurers to do the same.

The White House is looking for a way to be in favor of a public option but also get enough Blue Dog Democrats -- many of whom hail from swing districts and states, and therefore need some cover -- to vote for it. One such cover is a Republican Senator from Maine, named Olympia Snowe. If she votes for the bill, Blue Dogs can calm their constituents -- who have been worked up into a lather by the right -- by saying "you see? Even a prominent Republican senator is voting for this."

So will Snowe play ball? It depends. More after the jump.

--Robert Reich

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