Feb. 10, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Reid’s Strategy on Health: Baby Steps

“I don’t want to second-guess the leader’s decision. I think he needed to move forward, give us an outline,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), a supporter of Reid’s approach. “For all of the Senators to sign up right now and say, ‘I’m on board with this bill’ — however it comes out — that is not leverage-maximizing behavior. So, I don’t think anybody’s astonished that people are still staking out positions and still expressing concerns.”

Strategically, the Majority Leader is wagering that — once the bill is on the floor — no Democrat will want to be tagged as blocking the party’s and President Barack Obama’s No. 1 domestic priority.

“I think the Senator knows that he has more room to work if this bill is on the floor,” a third Democratic Senate aide said. “The further down the road things get, the better the bill’s prospects are.”

But many have questioned why Reid chose to move forward with a bill that includes a controversial public insurance option, albeit with a provision allowing states to opt out, when including a “trigger” for the public option would likely have garnered at least one GOP vote. Moderate Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) has indicated she might vote for a bill if the public option was created as a fallback that would kick in only if private insurers could not reduce costs on their own.

Democratic sources said Reid realized last week that he did not yet have a solid 60 votes for either proposal but that he had more Democrats who felt comfortable with the opt-out option than he did for a trigger. So he decided to go with the majority of his party.

Democratic Senators supportive of the public insurance option on Wednesday defended Reid’s decision to include the measure in the final bill.

Schumer, who argued vigorously in favor of the public option with an opt-out, gave a vote of confidence to Reid’s strategy of incrementalism, saying he has been encouraged by the fact that centrists do not appear likely to block the bill from coming to the floor.

Schumer also said too much was made of Sen. Joe Lieberman’s (ID-Conn.) comments on Tuesday that he might vote to filibuster the bill if, in its final form, it includes a public insurance option.

“I thought the fuss made about what Sen. Lieberman said was greater than I anticipated,” Schumer said. “The fact that he said that he was definitely voting to move to proceed — on a motion to proceed — we regarded as a good sign, because he was one of the four or five people who in our view, hadn’t privately committed to that.”

Schumer also hinted at a strategy that Democratic aides said would likely be brought to bear on wavering centrists such as Lieberman, who caucuses with Democrats.

“We all know that the bill that emerges after weeks of debate on the Senate floor is not going to be the same one that leader Reid submitted,” Schumer added. “And I talked to Joe Lieberman later in the day and said, ‘Just keep your options open.’”

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