I’ve always thought that they’re better off going for a liberal bill that the left will love and the right will hate rather than some weak-tea compromise that will only irritate both sides. In the former scenario, they get rapturous press and GOTV support from progressives next year; in the latter, they get a disaffected base and plenty of angry conservatives at the polls regardless. The GOP picks up seats either way but there’s no reason necessarily to think they pick up more in scenario one than scenario two.

Sounds like The One’s figured it out, although predictably he’s unwilling to gamble his political capital on full-throated support for a government plan. Better to save that sort of thing for, say, the Olympics, where there are few political consequences to flaming out spectacularly.

But now, senior administration officials are holding private meetings almost daily at the Capitol with senior Democratic staff to discuss ways to include a version of the public plan in the health care bill that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., plans to bring to the Senate floor later this month, according to senior Democratic congressional aides…

At the same time, Obama has been reaching out personally to rank-and-file Senate Democrats, telephoning more than a dozen lawmakers in the last week to press the case for action…

“The challenge is to go to the (Senate) floor, hold the deal,” said Steve Elmendorf, a lobbyist who was chief of staff to former House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt. But “they are more involved than people think. They have a plan and a strategy, and they know what they want to get and they work with people to get it.”…

He has met repeatedly in private with Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, who has floated a proposal to allow states to set up government plans as a fallback if commercial insurers do not control premiums.

Any problem with setting up the public option as plan B if and only if private insurance premiums spiral out of control? Why, yes: Between requiring all Americans to carry insurance and requiring all insurance companies to cover people regardless of preexisting conditions, the final bill’s practically guaranteed to generate that spiral. Robert Tracinski:

The Baucus bill includes an “individual mandate” that requires everyone to buy health insurance-but not inexpensive, high-deductible catastrophic health insurance. Instead, it imposes a requirement for pricier comprehensive coverage that pays for routine costs like annual checkups. The bill then requires that insurance companies provide coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, and that they charge customers at high risk of medical problems the same rates as those with lower risks-which means that these extra expenses will have to be paid for by raising everyone else’s premiums.

And then the Baucus bill delivers the knock-out punch: after forcing us into expensive comprehensive insurance plans and driving up the cost of those plans, the bill would impose a massive 40% tax on “gold-plated” plans-which turn out to include the health-insurance plans of many in the middle class. So that drives up the cost of insurance even higher.

You can see why it doesn’t much matter whether or not we have a “public option” in the original bill. Everything else in the bill is designed to make private health insurance unaffordable-so that in a few years, people will clamor for a government-subsidized “public option,” and the same politicians who destroyed private health insurance can make a big show of coming to the rescue of their victims.

A fascinating hypothetical: What if the Democrats push through a bill without a public option, the GOP takes back Congress next year, and then Tracinski’s nightmare comes to pass? Would the GOP have the stones to try to repeal the individual mandate (quite possibly) or the requirement that preexisting conditions be covered (quite impossibly)? Would they dare consider “riding to the rescue” by passing some sort of limited public option? That sounds like an insane question to ask, but remember who we’re talking about here.

Follow the Tribune link and read down to the end and you’ll find the Democrats leaning hard on congressional waverers with polls about how much support the public option allegedly draws. Funny how those polls change once you introduce the possibility of adverse consequences. I’m tempted to say that the GOP should start a message blitz about those consequences ASAP, but given the near certainty that the individual mandate and preexisting coverage provisions will pass, what good will it do in the end?