Thursday, October 15, 2009

Crunch Time

It really does seem like crunch time on healthcare reform. President Obama's strategy so far seems to have worked--he let the opposition huff and puff themselves out, and the insurance companies expose their own greed. He got bills out of all the committees, including Senate Finance. Now reportedly for the first time, White House reps are working directly with Senators and their staff to craft the final Senate bill, that combines the two that Health and Finance passed.

The crucial element remains the public option, and most especially whether the individual mandate and the public option are linked. TPM reports that Speaker Pelosi, getting the House together for a strong public option in their bill, Pelosi came closer than any member of the Democratic leadership has thusfar to suggesting that the individual mandate should be conditional on the inclusion of a public option.

It's a very dicey situation. The Obama campaign machinery is gearing up to get Congress to pass stuff, but nobody quite knows the White House position on public option and individual mandate. Personally, that constrains me from participating. I'm more likely to work with the groups pressing that linkage between public option and individual mandate. I just don't see forcing people to pay for profit-making health care.

Reports have it that the White House is being sympathetic to the Olympia Snowe proposal for a public option trigger (Kos frontpagers refer to her as President Snowe because she seems to be dictating the final bill.) For awhile I've suspected that some sort of opt-out public option would be what comes out of this--some mechanism for a kind of reverse trigger. The proposal that states could opt out of a public option seemed to get general approval last week, but it doesn't seem many are talking about it now.

Of course the option means that the individual can choose a non-public plan. An opt-out is built in. Not so the individual mandate. It's the smell of forcing everyone to buy insurance that's got the insurance companies so excited, and their greed is such that they are working hard to make sure there is no public plan choice. Not unexpected from a business that considers it an affront when they have to do anything but take in money.

TPM also reports that progressive sources are saying that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is "playing an inside game" to get a strong public option. That's contrary to a lot of earlier stories, but if it's true, it may also indicate that the White House--or at least the President--is pushing it, though at the moment behind the scenes. If Reid decides to include the public option into the final Senate bill, its chances increase dramatically, because he probably won't do it unless he's pretty sure it will pass, and because once it's in, it's very hard to get it out. But the drama could be extended if he doesn't, because then it will be up to the conference committee reconciling the House and Senate bills--and Pelosi is said to be positioning to make sure the option gets into the bill then.

So this is crunch time, but not the final crunch time. Still a ways to go.

Update: Krugman on why insurance company greed may have backfired, and Nancy Pelosi saying pretty much what I've been saying about the public option and individual mandate.

Monday, October 12, 2009

NFL 5th

Okay, so it is turning into a sports blog. Who cares? The NFL season is shaping up in a predictable way, with big winners and big losers and a few in betweens. But the names of the big winning teams were totally unpredicted: for among the unbeaten teams are Denver, New Orleans and Minnesota. With the Bengals close behind, and at the top of its division. The pre-season favorites (New England, San Diego) are struggling, and last year's almost undefeated team, the Titans, is winless so far this year.

The Steelers meanwhile are in between. They survived their game in Detroit with the one-win Lions, but until the last stand the defense made, the fourth quarter collapse continued. At least their loss to Cinncy wasn't totally flukish--the Bengals are beating everybody. But their last minute win over the Titans looks troubling.

They play the hapless Browns next week. But their three games after that will tell the season: Minnesota, and after the bye week, Denver on Monday night, followed by the Bengals. The toughest will be at Denver, partly because it's at Denver, and partly because Denver's strength (fourth quarter finishes) is so far the Steelers' weakness. The return of Troy Polamalu (by Minnesota, looks like) should help a lot, but it doesn't necessarily solve the problems--they had a fourth quarter collapse in the Super Bowl as well, with the defense giving up big plays and points, and the offense unable to sustain drives or score. But they won it, of course. You can't ever count them out. This team is even more mercurial than last year's.

Well, I learned a lot about the NFL watching the postgame shows Sunday. I heard a lot about Dallas, etc. Long analyzes of every game, almost. In the almost category as usual: the Steelers. Barely a mention. The P-G's Ron Cook may compare Big Ben to John Elway, but to the TV talkers, he barely exists. Meanwhile, half the fans in the Detroit stadium were Steelers fans. Steeler Nation. But not worth talking about.

Update: Things got bleaker for the Steelers with a season-ending injury to defensive end Aaron Smith, a key player to run defense. Minnesota in particular must be salivating.