The more I look at the merged Senate bill, the more I’m afraid that Harry Reid might have been laying the ground work to betray progressives on the issue of the public option, and gain the support of Olympia Snowe. Many of Snowe’s top demands managed to make their way into the bill.

Harry Reid decided to take the terrible “free rider” provision championed by Snowe from the Senate Finance committee bill instead of the employer mandate from the HELP bill. Reid went with a very much weaker individual mandate more in keeping with the wishes of Snowe. He also kept the terrible “nationwide plans” from the SFC bill. Snowe strongly backs the nationwide plans and claimed it was one of the reason she voted for the bill in committee.

Reid did not just go with the provisions from the SFC bill strongly favored by Snowe. He took the unusual step of even further watering down provisions that Snowe wanted changed. He dramatically reduced the minimum requirement for what qualifies as insurance. He reduced the actuarial value of bronze level plans to 60%. That is even lower than it was in either of the committee bills. The merged bill would also allow people up to the age of 29 to buy extremely low value catastrophic plans. The SFC bill would only let people 25 and younger buy these low value plans. Both changes were championed by Snowe.

The other issue of concern is the design of the public option’s opt-out provision. It does not seem well thought out. There is no restriction on when states can start opting out. At the very least there should have been a clause, so that people currently on the public option would get to remain on it, at minimum, until the next open enrollment period if their state opts out. Reid may not have put a lot of work into designing the opt out provision because he did not plan for it to remain.

Tom Carper has recently been working with Snowe to bring back a new, re-designed trigger. Reid is aware of these efforts. Even if Reid has not directly endorsed Carper’s plan, he doesn’t seem to be trying to put a stop to it either. Just today, Reid took the very strange step of taking reconciliation off the table.

It is possible I’m just being paranoid and reading too much into these changes. They may have nothing to do with Snowe. It could also be that Reid has made these changes in the hope of convincing her to at least not filibuster a bill with a public option. He might think that by giving her 90% of what she wants, she will be willing to accept the opt-out public option.

Either way, this is something I plan to keep a very close eye on. If progressives find out that Reid’s support of the public option was purely for show, while at the same time he secretly worked with Snowe to kill it with a trigger, that would not go over well with the base. Reid does have the power to get a public option passed, there is no good excuse for failure.