Obama's Plan B? Update: Maybe, says Hoyer!

Barack Obama plans to use today’s health-care summit to make one last push for the highly unpopular ObamaCare proposals currently stalled in Congress.  Over the last few days, a number of leaks from Democrats on Capitol Hill suggest that Obama and Nancy Pelosi don’t have the votes to pass the current Senate bill and may find themselves bogged down in the Senate over reconciliation as well.  According to the Wall Street Journal, Obama has prepared a scaled-down version of ObamaCare to spring on both sides in today’s meeting that will almost certainly anger progressives — and probably won’t endear him to his party’s embattled leadership, either (via Geoff A):

President Barack Obama will use a bipartisan summit Thursday to push for sweeping health-care legislation, but if that fails to generate enough support the White House has prepared the outlines of a more modest plan.

His leading alternate approach would provide health insurance to perhaps 15 million Americans, about half what the comprehensive bill would cover, according to two people familiar with the planning.

It would do that by requiring insurance companies to allow people up to 26 years old to stay on their parents’ health plans, and by modestly expanding two federal-state health programs, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, one person said. The cost to the federal government would be about one-fourth the price tag for the broader effort, which the White House has said would cost about $950 billion over 10 years.

Stung by accusations of profligacy in an era of massive increases in the federal deficit, a $250 billion plan would make Obama look comparatively thrifty.  That will be part of why Democrats will object to the proposal.  While the WSJ analysis concludes that a scaled-back plan would help protect blue-dog Democrats, it would be more likely to further anger the electorate and cut off Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid at the knees after backing the White House for months on the original ObamaCare plan.

That’s probably why Ezra Klein reports in today’s Washington Post that the White House is denying that any Plan B exists:

The Wall Street Journal has a splashy piece this evening on the White House’s plan B for health-care reform: a fallback approach that would cover 15 million people, do less to reform the system and cut costs, and carry a lower price tag. Call it health-care lite.

Plan B has been around for awhile. In August, discussions raged in the White House over whether to pare back the bill. The comprehensive folks won the argument, but people also drew up plans for how you could pare back the bill, if it came to that. More thinking was done on this in the aftermath of the Massachusetts election, when Rahm Emanuel and some of the political folks again argued for retreating to a more modest bill. As you’d expect, these conversations included proposals for how that smaller bill would look.

At this point, I could quote some White House sources swearing up and down that that’s all this is. A vestigial document that’s being blown out of proportion by a conservative paper interested in an agenda-setting story. They’re furious over this story. None of the quotes are sourced to the White House — not even anonymously — raising questions that the whole thing is sabotage. But it hardly matters. There’s no Plan B at this point in the game, and most everyone knows it.

The problem with Klein’s analysis is that it’s become increasingly clear that there isn’t a Plan A, either, and everyone knows that.  Progressives now want reconciliation for a public option that is opposed by more Senate Democrats than ever.  House progressives don’t want to vote for a Senate bill that doesn’t include one.   Bart Stupak’s coalition is once again threatening to block the Senate version in the House over the lack of language blocking federal funds for abortion.  And if the House passes the Senate bill and reconciliation doesn’t work, they’ll have stuck the unions with a heavy tax on their health insurance plans they can ill afford .

Obama called this meeting to find a way to pass anything for which he can claim a victory.  The proposal outlined by the WSJ makes sense politically for that purpose, but is weak tea and would almost certainly find no support from either side in Congress.  Expanding S-CHIP again on the heels of the contentious fight over the last two years on that program will be difficult, especially since Congress has already exhausted ideas for funding it.  Medicaid expansion alone will get fought by the states, which will bear most of the new costs, unless Obama proposes a Cornhusker Kickback for all 50 states.

For Democrats, a package with minimal health-insurance “reform” will be a bitter loss.  Republicans would argue that interstate competition and tort reform would save more money than a plan to expand already-sinking entitlement programs, and they’d be right.  But worst of all for Democrats — and best of all for Republicans — a new plan would mean that the entire legislative process would have to start from Square One, meaning that health-care reform will take another several weeks, if not months, out of the legislative calendar.  Even if it passed, which would seem rather unlikely, the fight would cripple Democrats in the midterms and keep them from addressing issues that play more to their strengths, like the long-promised immigration reform effort.

Update: Rob Port notes that no governors have been invited to attend today’s summit, despite the backbreaking hikes in Medicaid that Obama and the Democrats propose.

Update (AP): The Journal’s not blowing smoke, or so says the House majority leader:

Hoyer, the second-ranking House Democrat, said the president would have to look at a fallback proposal if the current proposals before Congress weren’t able to muster the votes to pass.

“I think the president’s open to that,” Hoyer said during an appearance on CNBC, cautioning that the president would clearly prefer to see the comprehensive bills pass…

“Obviously, the president has indicated he wants to have a comprehensive bill,” Hoyer said. “But the president, like all of us, understands that in a democracy, you do the possible.”

Between his comments this morning and what he said on Tuesday, is Hoyer trying to kill Obama’s bill?

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