One of the chief Blue Dog Democrats in the House made the case on Monday that fellow members of his party should get behind health care legislation that included cooperative insurance coverage rather than a robust public plan.
Rep. Jim Cooper, (D-Tenn), who played a key role in tripping up the health care reform efforts during the Clinton administration, told MSNBC's Chris Matthews that "co-ops" could be an ideal substitute for a government-run plan, provided that they protect consumer rights and keep insurance companies honest.
More than anything else, the Tennessean made the case that the proposal would be the best vehicle by which to get the 60 votes needed for passage in the Senate.
"A co-op is really used over three-quarters of the land area of America so we buy our electricity that way," said Cooper. "It's a creature of the New Deal. It's worked really pretty well over all the country for 70 or 80 years. It's owned by the customers; it is not owned by the government. It works. It works real well. There are good ways to solve this problem.... We can solve any problem we want to in this great country. Let's put our minds together and calmly and rationally solve this health care problem. It's eluded every president for 60 years, but we can do it and we can do it without a big government solution."
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The news in this nugget isn't just that Cooper's on board with the co-op approach. A centrist Democrat with a history of expressing concerns about government involvement in health care, his support for such an approach is somewhat expected. What's of interest is the extent to which the center of the health care debate has been shifted in a matter of weeks. Three committees in the House of Representatives have already passed pieces of health care legislation with a fairly strong public option. As has one committee in the Senate.
Discussion of cooperatives by Cooper, Senator Kent Conrad, (D-N.D.), and others of a co-op alternative truly is an instance in which the party is negotiating against itself, with the moderates dominating the conversation. And while Cooper's co-panelist, Rep. Phil Gingrey, (R-G.A.), seemed to offer philosophical support for the cooperative structure, it doesn't seem likely that the proposal will win much Republican backing. Late on Monday, the Republican National Committee released a statement declaring its opposition to this (already considered) compromise approach.
"PUBLIC OPTION" BY ANY OTHER NAME IS STILL GOVERNMENT-RUN HEALTH CARE," read the headline.