Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Driven Snowe

Yesterday, Keith Hennessey laid out a great outline of potential strategies for the Obama Administration to pursue on the path to health care reform. In light of a few leaks from the White House, Keith has already issued a slightly revised assessment of the road ahead in health care.

The flow of information coming from the White House seems to revolve around private negotiations with Senator Olympia Snowe from Maine to create a bill that would involve a trigger on a public option should the insurance companies fail to lower costs and improve quality and competition within a designated time frame. This has been termed the "Snowe trigger." With this information Hennessey increased the odds option 2 would result in the final bill while decreasing odds that the White House would be forced to fall back to a significantly scaled back bill. These are the viable outcomes and odds revised by Hennessey:

Cut a bipartisan deal on a comprehensive bill with 3 Senate Republicans, leading to a law this year; (was 10% chance, now 5%)

Pass a partisan [comprehensive] bill through the regular Senate process with 59 Senate Democrats + one Republican, leading to a law this year; (was 10% chance, now 25%)

Pass a partisan [comprehensive] bill through the reconciliation process with 50 of 59 Senate Democrats, leading to a law this year; (steady at 25% chance)

Fall back to a much more limited bill that becomes law this year; (was 50% chance, now 40%)

No bill becomes law this year. (steady at 5% chance)

The odds still favor the fall back position or option 4 but clearly there is a strong interest in passing a largely partisan bill with Senator Snowe as the final vote. Ezra Klein at The Washington Post seems to think that including Snowe will result in a more liberal bill than what would likely come through the more conservative Kent Conrad in the budget reconciliation process. Hennessey, however, says almost the opposite:
If you’re a liberal, as are the bulk of both the House and Senate Democratic caucuses, you probably hate this path. You’re not getting any political cover from Republicans (Senator Snowe doesn’t count), and you’re sacrificing “essential” elements of the bill that you [could/might] be able to get through a reconciliation path.
There are other problems for House moderates who were BTU'd by their vote on the controversial cap and trade bill that is currently languishing in the Senate. Hennessey outlines the difficulty in getting 60 votes repeatedly on the numerous ammendments that could be offered by Republicans in addition to the necessary votes just to move the process along. Snowe also faces tremendous repercussions from her caucus for being the sole Republican vote to pass the legislation.

Should the Snowe trigger fail to bring a bill to fruition, there is always the reconciliation process or a very scaled back bill that would have bipartisan support. Falling poll numbers and public skepticism doesn't appear to be forcing the White House to surrender. The New York Times has a quote from an anonymous official that illustrates Obama's dogged determination to get a bill:
“It’s so important to get a deal,” a White House official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to be candid about strategy. “He will do almost anything it takes to get one.”
I would say the last statement is the closest we will come to a sure bet on the road ahead this fall.

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