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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Can Proposed ‘Trigger Mechanism’ Work?

Buzz is building around the so-called “trigger mechanism” as a compromise provision to make the public option palatable to centrist Senators. Marc Armbinder reports from The Atlantic‘s ‘Politics’ blog that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is “pushing the idea of a “trigger” internally,” and he and Senator Olympia Snowe “regularly trade legislative and political intelligence.” In their New York Times article, “Health Care Idea Has Public Plan Only as Backup,” Robert Pear and Jackie Calmes report that,

The idea of such a backup plan or “trigger mechanism” has emerged in negotiations between the White House and the one Republican willing to engage with them on the issue, Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, on whom the White House rests its hopes of finding a middle ground…Despite Mr. Obama’s impressive victory last November, the White House finds itself trying to satisfy Ms. Snowe for several reasons: other Republican senators have turned against Mr. Obama’s approach, the White House cannot count on the support of moderate-to-conservative Democratic senators, and efforts to forge a bipartisan bill in the Senate Finance Committee have bogged down.

Senator Snowe’s ‘trigger mechanism’ is, well, complicated, as the authors explain:

Under Ms. Snowe’s proposal, a new government corporation would offer health insurance in any states where affordable coverage was not readily and widely available from private insurers. The corporation would not be part of the Department of Health and Human Services, although federal officials would serve on its board.
The public insurance plan would be offered in any state where fewer than 95 percent of the residents had access to affordable coverage…Congress would define “affordable” with a sliding scale based on income. Under a proposal being considered by the Finance Committee, Medicaid would be extended to anyone with income less than 133 percent of the poverty level ($29,327 for a family of four).
For people with incomes just above that level, insurance would be considered affordable if they could find a policy with premiums equal to no more than, say, 3 percent or 4 percent of their income. For people with incomes exceeding three times the poverty level ($66,150 for a family of four), insurance might be deemed unaffordable if the premiums were more than, say, 12.5 percent to 15 percent of their income.

However, Chris Good of The Atlantic ‘Politics’ blog, reports that Reps. Lyn Woolsey (D-CA) and Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), co-chairs of the House Progressive Caucus, who spoke with thge President on a Friday conference call, have expressed their strong opposition to a ‘trigger mechanism.’ Woolsey said she was “skeptical that such a trigger would ever get pulled,” according to Good.
In their L. A. Times article “Democrats Consider Setting ‘Trigger’ for Government Health Care,” Peter Nicholas and Christi Parsons report:

The plan might win over moderate Republican and wavering Democratic senators, who do not want to give the government blanket authorization to enter the insurance market and compete with private companies. At the same time, President Obama could make the argument that he has not abandoned the prospect of a government-run plan, also called a “public option,” which liberals contend is needed to inject competition into the insurance industry…”This is the best shot we’ve got for getting a public option,” said one House Democratic advisor, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. “It’s better than nothing.”

Parsons and Nicholas report that the views of key Democratic leaders on the “trigger mechanism” are skeptical:

“I will support nothing short of a robust public health insurance plan upon implementation — no triggers,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.). “I believe Congress will pass and the president will sign such a bill this fall.”
In an interview Thursday, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) cited the high salaries of health insurance executives and rising premiums as reasons for adopting a public plan without delay. Giving insurers a chance to prove themselves anew is a waste of time, she said…”I support a public-interest option now because we already know the problem,” Boxer said….She added: “We don’t need to test out the insurance companies. We’ve tested them out for years.”
…One Democratic senator, speaking on condition of anonymity because negotiations were ongoing, said that there were no guarantees that a trigger would create a 60-vote, filibuster-proof majority in the Senate…”We don’t even know what this buys us,” the senator said. “Does it get us to 58 votes? And if that’s all it does for us, why do we want to go down this route?”

I looked in vain for articles that said positive things about the “trigger mechanism.” Logic suggests there could be a point at which a “trigger” produces broad coverage for everyone. But the main benefit of the idea seems to be to get Sens. Snowe, Collins and perhaps one other Republican to support the Democratic plan. Still, the distrust of a trigger among progressive legislators seems broad and deep — a tough sell

2 comments on “Can Proposed ‘Trigger Mechanism’ Work?

  1. ducdebrabant on

    Allow me to add: with 49 million more customers (largely young) forced to swell he insurance company rolls, the huge profits they will make — assume they choose to continue gouging their customers — will be available for buying legislators. They are already spending a million dollars a day to do so. The juggernaut of cash a bad bill would hand them would be very effective in getting the trigger repealed — and they might get a lot of brand new Republicans in 2010 willing to grab that cash and repeal away. Their business plan has always been more about buying legislation favorable to them than about placating government regulators or public opinion. Why would it change now?

  2. ducdebrabant on

    Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC was saying that if a bill is passed with a trigger which mandates coverage (either the individual purchase of insurance or an employee plan), the Republicans will immediately start their efforts to repeal the trigger AND the employer mandate (which would otherwise force employers to offer it or subsidize it) — creating a boom industry for private insurance companies with a captive client base and no cost controls whatsoever. We’ll have a huge work force, much of it unemployed, legally required to be covered, less able than ever to turn for help to employers, and at the mercy of the insurance companies’ pricing policies. And we won’t be one bit closer to a public option than we were under George Bush.


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