To review:

On June 22, Sen. Maria Cantwell told a Seattle radio show that the public option for health care reform—meaning, the idea of creating a government-backed national health care program that will compete against private insurers to bring costs down—is not something she's pushing. She prefers something else, she said: the so-called coop compromise, which would encourage small, federally-chartered health care cooperatives around the country. Why? Here's what Cantwell said on the radio about the public plan: “I don't think that's something we can get through the United States Senate.”

Got it. But then, two days later, Cantwell said something very different to the Tri-City Herald: she favors a public plan.

Then, two days after that, in an e-mail to a constituent who wrote the Senator to lobby for the public plan—which is also known as the public option—Cantwell said (italics added): “I believe an effective public option could help improve access to high quality care, while bringing down costs through expanded choice and competition in the health care industry.”

Ok. Then one day later she told the Clark County Columbian: “I think there can be a bill with a public option that can pass.”

What? Within a week, Cantwell expressed opposition to the public plan because it can’t pass in the Senate, outright support for the public plan, hypothetical optimism about the public plan’s potential, and finally provisional support for the idea that a public plan could pass in the Senate. Got that?

Wait, there’s more.

Yesterday, at a public meeting she hosted at the University of Washington Medial Center branch in South Lake Union, the first question Cantwell received from a constituent was: Do you support the public plan? Her answer: “Yes, I support a public plan.”

Here's what I think is going on: Cantwell is caught between constituents who want her to support the public plan and her own interest (perhaps related to Senate committee politics, perhaps related to a genuine feeling about what's best) in promoting the coop compromise.

So she's found a way to do both. She's changed the definition of public plan.

In her mind, the coop compromise is a public plan and the public option is a public plan. So she now says: "I support a public plan"—while still preserving the option to say she was talking about coops all along. It's a classic, definition-shifting, all-things-to-everyone solution to a political pickle.

Which leaves people like me having crazy e-mail exchanges with Cantwell's spokesperson, Ciaran Clayton.


Does Sen. Cantwell consider the coop compromise to be a public plan?


She thinks health care reform should include a public option. There is no plan yet—either drafted by the Administration or by the Finance Committee—but she could support either a federally run health plan or a nonprofit co-op.


So I read this as saying that she believes either a federally run health plan or a nonprofit co-op could be described as a public option. Correct?


As I said, she could support a federally run health plan or a nonprofit co-op plan.


If she could support a federally run health plan or a nonprofit co-op plan, and she thinks health care reform should include a public option, does it not follow that she believes both the federally run health plan and the nonprofit co-op plan constitute a "public option."


Again, she wholeheartedly supports a public plan that would bring down costs and increase access to care.

Sorry if you're asleep at this point, but what's going on here is that Clayton will not recognize a language-based distinction between the public plan and the coop compromise. To Cantwell, it seems, they're both "public plans."

Which, conveniently, allows Cantwell to go all over the state during Fourth of July recess saying what everyone wants to hear, even if it's perhaps not true: she supports the public plan!