This is kind of like stripping the amnesty provisions out of comprehensive immigration reform. Once the venom’s been drained from the fangs, how much damage can it do?

No wonder the Kossacks are ready to revolt: “If the Senate Finance Committee drops the public option, the bill is worthless.”

[Senate sources] said any legislation that emerges from the talks is expected to provide for a nonprofit cooperative to sell insurance in competition with private industry, rather than giving the federal government a role in the marketplace. The White House and numerous Democrats in Congress have called for a government option to provide competition to private companies and hold down costs.

One of the senators involved in the talks, Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, confirmed that co-ops are the preferred approach. “The co-op is certainly one of the prominent options that is on the table,” Snowe told reporters after the group met Monday. “It’s safe to say that’ll probably remain in the final document.”

Officials also said a bipartisan compromise would not subject companies to a penalty if they declined to offer coverage to their workers. Instead, these businesses would be required to reimburse the government for part or all of any federal subsidies designed to help lower-income employees obtain insurance on their own.

Snowe said the idea is to discourage employers from dropping coverage because under the plan their workers could get government assistance to pay premiums. “We don’t want to undermine (employer coverage) or create a perverse incentive where employers potentially drop coverage because their employees can get subsidies,” she said.

Still in the bill: Provisions prohibiting insurance companies from denying coverage to any applicant, which will force healthy people to subsidize the less healthy via increased premiums. Ace is appropriately worried that Congress is simply too stupid and corrupt to hammer out a decent bill even with the killer parts of the program removed, but I think he’s kidding himself in expecting The One to sign off on a bill without a public plan. Granted, the political pressure to save face by passing something, anything, is enormous, and granted, whatever ends up on his desk will be watered down from Hopenchange’s utopian dreams. But is he really prepared to shaft the left on a government plan? If they desert him and then ObamaCare turns into the boondoggle we expect, who’ll be left to chant “yes we can”?

Update: If you’re wondering how we reached the point where Olympia Snowe is dictating terms to a filibuster-proof Democratic majority, let Kent Conrad explain. And if you believe Blue Dog Jim Cooper, Pelosi’s no better off than Conrad is.

Update: A spokesman from Jim DeMint’s office e-mails to say don’t be fooled — the co-ops will be almost as bad as a public plan, “dictating the terms of every health plan in America just like the government did in the mortgage industry, a Fannie Med, if you will.” He points to this admission from Reid a few weeks ago that there’ll be plenty of venom left in the fangs:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NY, told reporters Thursday that a system of nonprofit cooperatives could pass as a “public option,” or government-run health care, depending on how they are set up.

“We’re going to have some type of public option, call it ‘co-op’, call it what you want,” Reid said, adding that Democrats are working on “some verison of a co-op that may satisfy everyone.”

This is not likely to please the legions of liberal Democrats clamoring for a plan fully-setup and managed by the federal government…

The co-op plan, authored by Sen Kent Conrad, D-ND, is still being tinkered with, but, working with Sen Chuck Schumer, D-NY, and other Democrats, some changes have been agreed to — like a major infusion of federal dollars at the beginning and an initial governing board set up by the feds with federal involvement. One point of contention, however, has been how long government officials remain on the board. Conrad has contended that the board should eventually be run solely by participants. Schumer and others have sought a continued government presence, trying to create a quasi-public option.

It’ll be mighty interesting to watch the Democrats pitch this to the left as a de facto public plan while they’re pitching it to the right as anything but.