Most of us have come to the logical conclusion that Bill Clinton is distancing his wife from President Obama by calling for the grandfathering of current health plans. But Mark Halperin thinks there's something subtler going on -- and I have to say that Halperin's theory is not completely crazy:
Could be B Clinton is drawing Rs into a trap a la "sterling" in '12 re Mitt/Bain by having Rs validate him on ACA -- & then rallying for it— Mark Halperin (@MarkHalperin) November 13, 2013
All these R press releases trying to drive a wedge between WJC and PBO on ACA. Building up WJC as the validator-in-chief. #foolmeonce— Mark Halperin (@MarkHalperin) November 13, 2013
Shows again the frequent lack of R message discipline -- and, maybe, brilliance of WJC. (As if more proof were needed...)— Mark Halperin (@MarkHalperin) November 13, 2013
Translation: Clinton got Republicans to say "Oh, listen to Bill Clinton" when he praised Mitt Romney's record at Bain as "sterling" -- which gave Clinton extra credibility among swing voters when he pounded on Romney and the Republicans after that, particularly at the Democratic convention.
I can't rule Halperin's theory out. I don't completely buy what he seems to be implying -- that the "sterling" line was a pure feint and the Obamacare criticism is another feint; obviously, both "sterling" and the Obamacare criticism hurt the president in the short run. And maybe that's the point for Clinton. He's like the kid you grew up with who would pretend to shove you down a flight of stairs and simultaneously seem to pull you back, saying, "Saved your life!"
In any case, I agree that Clinton will come around, at least if Obamacare is patched and presentable soon. That will be bad for Republicans, good for Bill's ego, good for Hillary's 2016 campaign -- and good for Obama.
Meanwhile, it's possible that Senate Democrats are playing a little 11-dimensional chess of their own. The Democratic bill sponsored by Mary Landrieu and now backed by Dianne Feinstein and Jeff Merkley is different in a number of ways from the bill put forth by House Republican Fred Upton, as Joan McCarter explains:
Upton's bill would allow insurance companies to continue to offer the existing, crappy policies that were in effect as of January 1, 2013. Upton's bill also allows insurance companies to cancel those policies at will, and try to push people into more expensive ones....But note the key difference -- Upton's GOP bill allows insurance companies to keep selling these policies and Landrieu's Democratic bill requires them to, as long as they're selling any policies in that particular market at all. Also:
Landrieu's bill would let people who have policies in the individual market keep their current policy as long as they keep paying their premiums. The bill applies both to the plans fail to meet the law's standard, and to the good policies that fail to meet the law's standard for "grandfathered" policies.
What Landrieu's bill would do would be to force insurance companies to annually (at renewal time) inform customers: the reason their policy is substandard -- why it doesn't meet the requirements of the new law; the enrollee's right to keep this policy; and that "the enrollee has the right to enroll in a qualified health plan offered through an Exchange and instruction on how to access such Exchange." Additionally, if the insurance company is canceling a policy, they have to provide an explanation as to why it's being canceled, including "a reference to any provision of this Act (or an amendment made by this Act) that such issuer relied upon in making the determination to cancel such coverage." In other words, they can't just say "because Obamacare."Also, the Republican bill preserves plans in existence up to January 1, 2013. The Democratic bill covers plans in existence up to the end of 2013.
It may be a terrible idea to undermine the health care law this way, but if you're going to do it, Landrieu's Democratic bill offers far more to the insured -- which is why Kos writes this:
If cons REALLY care about people losing insurance and not gutting entire law, then they should support Landrieu. They don’t and won't— Markos Moulitsas (@markos) November 13, 2013
So some Democrats will support the Democratic bill, Republicans will support the Republican bill, and we'll have a stalemate, which will give Democrats in Congress cover and buy the White House time -- we hope -- to develop some proposals of its own. And, we hope, get the damn site functioning smoothly.
UPDATE: At Ballon Juice Richard Mayhew calls the Landrieu bill "an elegant kludge" because, significantly, it grandfathers old health plans for the individuals who had them only, without letting any new customers buy them. Thus, he says, "this is not serious damage to the risk pooling mechanism." If that's true, it gets us over the immediate hump and preserves the core of Obamacare. So I assume it has a snowball's chance in hell of passing.