Triggering a Democratic Civil War

By winning Olympia Snowe over on health care, the White House is risking something far more politically dangerous: an ugly fight within the Democratic Party and further erosion of Obama's standing with his base.
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Media reports and insider buzz make it increasingly clear that key people at the White House have become obsessed with Olympia Snowe on health care, and are willing to do pretty much whatever she demands in order to get her on board. The price is looking more and more like this incredibly bad trigger proposal she has been pushing, a trigger that quite literally is written to automatically never trigger a public option. You see, Senator Snowe is writing language into an amendment that is literally a Catch-22. The legislative language says that a public option will be set up in a state in which health care is not affordable to 95% of the state's residents, but it defines affordability as after the new tax credits that are written into the bill to make health care affordable. Not only would this be an incredibly weak public option (doing it in one state will mean it can't get the market power to compete with the big insurers), but it would be a public option that is written by its definition to never be triggered. This is a trigger specifically, intentionally designed to kill the public option.

Some senior White House staffers are now beginning to try to sell this trigger to progressive groups as the compromise version of a public option, saying the White House doesn't want to have a floor fight in the Senate, and that they can always fix it in conference committee. That way they can pick up Snowe, satisfy that desperate urge for being officially bipartisan (even though Snowe can't bring a single other Republican with her), and not have to worry about procedural hassles in the Senate. But by finally winning Snowe over, the White House is risking something far more politically dangerous: an ugly fight within the Democratic Party, further erosion of Obama's standing with his base, the specter of more primary fights.

The AFL-CIO, Howard Dean and Democracy for America, bloggers,, progressive media figures, and the tens of thousands of people coming to Obama rallies and cheering wildly for a public option will figure out quickly that this trigger proposal is a farce specifically written to kill any chance of a public option. The Congressional Progressive Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus already are angry at having legal immigrants thrown under the bus by Baucus, all will explode.

As someone who spends every single day working hard to build and strengthen the bridge between the progressive community and the White House, I feel like the White House is triggering a bomb to blow the bridge up from under me (pun fully intended).

This trigger will never trigger a public option, but I can tell you what it will trigger: a civil war inside the Democratic Party just when you most need unity to pass health care reform. I am convinced that there are deals that can be struck that will bring progressive and moderate Democrats, House and Senate Democrats together on a good strong health care bill that will pass. But a trigger designed to never trigger isn't even close to being one of them.

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