I wish Roll Call were publicly available. Somehow, insiders talking to insiders behind a firewall dispense with the wink-wink, nudge-nudge that goes on for the benefit of the public. When the administration says "Obama supports a public option" while doing everything it can to pressure people into dropping their support, the pro-forma spin isn’t taken seriously. Witness this article on White House plans to draft their own health care bill:
The White House has been secretly drafting its own health care legislation that it may unveil at some point during the debate if officials believe it would help secure passage of a bill, according to sources familiar with the effort.
Sources differed on how far the process has gotten, with some saying a bill is basically finished and others saying they are aware only of a partially completed effort. White House officials, though they know their preferences, also appear to be constructing different options that could be thrown together depending on how the legislation is shaping up in Congress.
But all sources knowledgeable about the effort agreed the measure includes significant detail and possibly even some legislative language that could ensure the bill is ready to go the moment it is needed. “They are getting ready for a backup,” said one veteran observer of health care debates who was knowledgeable about the effort. “It will be parachuted in if necessary.”
The White House measure appears designed to entice moderate Democrats and perhaps even Republicans into supporting a health care overhaul if legislative efforts in Congress fail or if they move too far to the left.
The White House has its own bill that it is ready to drop if Congress moves "too far to the left" — if "liberals" demand a public option.
Not only does the White House have a bill, says Roll Call, but it’s far enough along that they could crunch numbers and arrive at a $900 billion sticker price by the time Obama spoke to the joint session of Congress on September 9.
Why would they need to do this?
At the moment, the Senate Finance Committee is moving legislation that includes many provisions and a price tag supported by President Barack Obama, and the need for a White House bill may now be moot. One of the reasons for embarking on the project was to have a detailed proposal ready in case the Finance Committee failed to move a bill that could pass the Senate.
Well, that would make sense if the Senate Finance Committee had to report a bill, but it doesn’t. The Senate HELP Committee already delivered one.
It isn’t the first time the story has been floated. On September 4, CNN reported the same thing. Robert Gibbs yesterday was quick to deny the Roll Call article, and say that the White House was not drafting its own bill. Gibbs has not been a pillar of reliability about the state of health care negotiations — in June he said he didn’t know if the PhRMA deal included a commitment that Medicare would not be allowed to renegotiate for prescription drug prices. Of course, it did.
So, why would the White House then float such a story, only to deny it?
Well, consider who reads Roll Call. Aside from Kagro and Kos, I don’t know too many bloggers who do. It’s a subscription-based publication that lobbyists and Capitol Hill insiders pay to read. Witness the editorial on unfair "lobbyist intimidation" on June 17, when Baucus’s staff told lobbyists that if they met with Republicans, it would be "viewed as a hostile act," and they would lose their seat at the negotiating table. It was Tom DeLay’s K-Street project in reverse, written for an audience who thinks defending lobbyists’ rights is critically important.
The Finance Committee bill transcribes the details of the deals that the White House and Baucus negotiated with all the health care industry stakeholders. So if the Baucus bill gets stalled, all those stakeholders like PhRMA, AHIP, the hospitals, the AMA, the device manufacturers, etc., etc., start to get nervous. They’ve plunked a bunch of good money down on advertising in exchange for their deals (just ask Tom Carper), and the last thing the White House wants is for them to start stepping out with the GOP.
Remember what happened the last time Billy Tauzin thought the White House was going back on the PhRMA deal? He yanked their chain in the pages of the New York Times and showed he was totally willing to air their dirty laundry if they tried to back out. The White House was forced to send Jim Messina into the shredder to verify it.
Shortly thereafter, John Boehner wrote a letter to Tauzin that read like something from a jilted boyfriend. Tauzin (and other stakeholders, and their money) will have many, many suitors should these deals start looking endangered. Ergo, leaking a story to a publication behind a firewall read by lobbyists assures them that if Baucus can’t deliver a bill that memorializes the deals, the White House is willing to step in and do it for him.
While they may or may not be writing their own bill, they need to reassure health care industry stake holders that those deals will be honored in the final bill, even if Baucus can’t get them through is committee. Because the last thing the White House needs right now is stakeholders leaking embarrassing documents because they’re getting hinky at the thought that their deals might go south.