Dana Milbank's world

Only Dana Milbank could write an entire column about the “proposal” Harry Reid laid out at yesterday's press conference without explaining what Reid actually proposed: That the health reform bill he is sending to the CBO will include a public option giving the states the choice to opt-out. Since that policy detail pretty much undermines his entire column, it's not surprising that he left it out. After all, Milbank's columns are about the story, not the facts. Here are a few bits of “color” Milbank includes from the press conference instead of mentioning, you know, what Reid actually proposed:

“Do you feel 100 percent sure right now that you have the 60 votes?” CNN's Dana Bash inquired. Reid looked down at the lectern. He looked up at the ceiling. He chuckled. He put his palms together as if in prayer. Then he spoke.


Instead of answering, Reid, with a Zen expression, looked to the back of the room to solicit a question from somebody else.


By this time, Reid's spokesman, Jim Manley, had one foot on the podium, as if he were ready to rush the stage and whisk his boss to safety.


More than 50 reporters jammed the Senate TV studio for the afternoon announcement. Photographers crawled on the floor, looking for a good angle. Reid's arrival was unusually punctual, and the usually free-form leader read from a typewritten speech.


Manley had heard enough. “Thank you!” he called out, lending a shoulder to his boss to help him off the stage.

So, basically the gist of Milbank's column is that in making his announcement (the one Milbank never gets around to explaining), Reid bowed before the “formidable power of liberal interest groups.” In Milbank's world, Reid knows that he doesn't have 60 votes for the public option, but doesn't think he can win re-election without progressive support, so he caved to them in order to “keep his hero status on the left.”

Here's another explanation: The Senate Finance Committee passed a bill with no public option. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee passed a bill with a public option. Reid's proposal is a compromise between the two. The “liberal interest groups” whose “formidable power” Reid trembles before originally wanted single-payer health care, then compromised to a strong public option pegged to Medicare rates, which is a long way from the “level-playing field” opt-out public option Reid proposed.

And, of course, there's the fact that a strong public option would lower health care costs and thus be good public policy. I mention that last point because Milbank grants anonymity to “Democratic aides” who say that Reid's proposal “had less to do with health-care policy than with Nevada politics,” but provides no analysis whatsoever of the proposal's possible merits or flaws. I wonder if those aides are connected to the “half a dozen moderates” Milbank says Reid “shift the public pressure” to from himself? I guess we'll never know.