Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), perhaps the only moderate Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, predicted that the committee’s forthcoming bill will not include a public option with a trigger. (Note that even if the Finance Committee’s bill doesn’t include a public option, one could still be added later in the legislative process, with or without a trigger.)

Still, the lack of a trigger in the Senate bill would be strange, says Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly, because the trigger was Snowe’s idea.

A public option with a trigger is a compromise whereby a public system would only come into effect if private insurers failed to cut costs within a certain number of years. The alternative would be for the Finance Committee to pass a bill with no public option at all.

To progressives, adopting the “wait and see” approach is like giving Bernie Madoff another five years to run his Ponzi scheme, just to make absolutely sure he’s a crook. On the other hand, if the trigger is written fairly, we can be confident that we’ll get a public option eventually, given the insurers dismal track record for cost control and the lack of competition.

A triggered public option may also appeal to moderates looking for political cover. It lets them say “the public option if necessary, but not necessarily the public option.” If costs come down on their own, the public option won’t kick in.

If the Baucus bill doesn’t include a trigger, should we declare the idea DOA? Not necessarily, Benen explains:

So, what’s up? Is Snowe moving away from her own idea? Is the trigger done for? Not really. I did some digging on this earlier and it seems Snowe’s comments were only in the context of the Finance Committee bill, which was never likely to have a trigger anyway. Snowe brought up the idea as far back as the spring, and encouraged the Gang of Six members to consider it, but her Republican colleagues rejected it out of hand. No matter what the Finance Committee agreed to, the trigger wasn’t going to be part of the equation.

But the idea may yet gain traction, because the Finance Committee bill isn’t the be-all, end-all version of the reform legislation. More to the point, the White House is going to have a hand in the process, and if Snowe wants a trigger, and she’s the 60th vote, it may yet happen,

Meanwhile, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) announced that a strong public option would pass by Christmas. Harkin chairs the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP), so he’s in a good position to make that prediction. As chair, Harkin vows to carry on the legacy of his predecessor Sen. Ted Kennedy (D- Mass). Harkin’s Senate HELP Committee provides a liberal counterbalance to Sen. Max Baucus’s (D-Mont) more conservative Finance Committee.

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