If the stimulus proved one thing, it’s that Republicans can’t really walk the walk on fiscal conservatism: they’ll vote against increased government spending, and promptly pocket the cash (e.g., Phil Gingrey, R-GA). The opt-out public option risks creating the same atmosphere: conservatives will stand against it on principle, but be punished at the polls for denying their lower-income constituents a shot at affordable, quality healthcare. And, should the public option compete favorably against private plans, resulting in lower prices, the difference in red states will be palpable, with all of the electoral consequences that implies.
If we believe in the public option, this is an experiment progressives should readily embrace, as a chance to prove, once and for all, that government programs can create a happier, healthier citizenry (as if, say, the highway system wasn’t proof enough). Admittedly, results come at the expense of the citizens of those states that do opt out, but it won’t be Democrats making those calls. The Republican desire to avoid the opt-out experiment — thus ducking the “difficult” choice between helping one’s constituents and “standing on principle” — speaks volumes.
[I]t is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous State may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country. — Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis.