More on the “Snowe trigger”

By Jacqueline Klingebiel

Sep 3, 2009 2:21pm

Z. Byron Wolf, our man on the ground on Capitol Hill, follows up on my morning post with some solid reporting on how the “Snowe trigger” is fairing in the Senate Finance Committee: The White House may focus next week’s health reform sales pitch on an old idea by Sen. Olympia Snowe, the only of three Republicans taking part in the secret Senate Finance Committee negotiations that has seemed willing even to consider a public health insurance option.

And while her idea of a public health insurance option triggered only after the private market fails is gaining new traction at the White House, Snowe is keeping her focus on the Finance Committee negotiations, where there has been very little talk of the trigger plan in recent months.

“Conversations are taking place on her safety-net fallback option as they have  throughout the debate this year, as well as other approaches to make certain people have access to affordable options,” said Snowe’s spokesperson, Julia Wanzco. “The Senator has had an open line of communication with the White House over the course of the past few months, and looks forward to participating in tomorrow’s tele-conference call with the Gang of Six — as the Senator’s foremost goal remains to achieve bipartisan consensus among the six members of the group on a path forward for meaningful health care reform.”

All six of the Finance Committee negotiators – three Republicans and three Democrats – are expected to take part in a conference call scheduled for 90 minutes on Friday at 10:30am. While the lawmakers have been in their respective states during the August recess, staffers have reportedly been hard at work on the secretive compromise.

It’s unclear if their talks include any sort of trigger, but seems unlikely that it would, since those members have talked more about creating a system of co-ops to compete with private insurers. The lead Democratic negotiator, Sen. Max Baucus, has always been careful to say that nothing is off the table in those discussions. But he has not spent a lot of time discussing triggers as something that’s on the table either.

It was back in the Spring that Snowe first floated her idea to create a public health insurance option, but only trigger its creation if the private market does not meet benchmarks to extend coverage to all Americans. After a meeting at the White House in July, Snowe elaborated a bit on her vision for the trigger plan: “This option would be available from day one in any state where – after market and insurance reforms are implemented – affordable, competitive plans still do not exist. And finally, I told the President that we appreciate and are anxious for his support as we tackle one of the most difficult aspects of any major legislation – finding the means to pay for it.”

The idea of a triggered public option – even one that is available in some states on “day one,” could draw support from some Democrats, like Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware or Ben Nelson of Nebraska, who are queasy about a more robust public option Some liberals, like Sen. John Kerry, have been reported to support the idea as a compromise. But it will take some convincing for more rank and file Democrats.

Sen. Chuck Schumer has said that a triggered public option is “not good enough” and, comparing it to a trigger in legislation that created the Medicare prescription drug benefit that deferred tough choices on how to pay for the benefit long-term, Schumer said a “trigger option has so far meant no public option at all.”

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