Earlier today, Sen. Kent Conrad, the North Dakota Democrat who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, introduced a "potential compromise" on the public plan: A system of federally-chartered co-ops that could offer a non-profit alternative to the for-profit insurance industry. In this telling, the co-ops preserve the central feature of the public plan -- they're a competitor to the traditional insurance industry -- but are free from the baggage of government control.
I spoke to the Senator this evening about the co-op model, and he said a few things that surprised me. First, his search for an alternative was on behalf of the G-11 -- the key Senate powerbrokers on health care. Second, it proceeded from the premise that the public plan doesn't have the votes. All Republicans are opposed and, according to Conrad, "at least three Democrats." And third, he thinks reconciliation is basically out as a viable option for comprehensive health reform.