Senator Dick Durbin (R-Ill.) always has been a political realist, and he's showing it again by
broaching what most progressive adherents of health reform would consider to be anathem: a package without a government-run plan. (The story is here.)
"I support a public option, but, yes, I am open" to a bill without it," Durbin told CNN.
This, of course, is more than a local story, because Durbin, as the Democratic Party's whip, is the second most powerful person in the Senate. Is Durbin relaying a signal from the Obama White House that perhaps all is not going as well as hoped, and is willing to negotiate a package not as extravagent as originally proposed? Or is it a signal to the White House from Durbin, indicating that in the Senate, at least, the comprehensive health reform package is in deep trouble and that compromise is necessary.
One might assume that it was just a slip of the tongue and that Durbin isn't really prepared to dump the controversial public option. But, as the consumate politician, Durbin doesn't make these kinds of slips. He's such a politician, for example, that when he found it useful, he jetisoned his pro-life position early in his career to become staunchly pro-choice.
From my viewpoint, compromise is a good idea. Let's work on the worst parts of the system separately, such as eliminating pre-existing conditions and expanding opporunties for health insurance for those who want and need it. Turning the entire health care system upside down for the sake of a few legitimate goals is a wasted and wasteful effort.
Would that it would so simple, though. Durbin, politician that he is, suggested that the House and Senate could pass separate health reform bills, and sneak the public option back into the bill during secret conference committee meetings. "Just understand that, after we pass this bill -- and I hope we do --
in the Senate, it will go to conference committee," he said. "We'll
have a chance to work out all of our differences."
But a bill with the public option back in it would be no compromise, even though Durbin would try to sell it as such.