It should really come as no surprise that Republicans have gone from bashing the idea of a public option to bashing the idea of co-ops. The fact of the matter is that there’s a conflict of interests here that you can’t really bridge. The idea of the public plan was to accomplish two key things — one is to provide a non-regulatory means of keeping insurance companies in check by offering competition, and the other is to reduce costs by squeezing provider profit margins à la Medicare. The heart of opposition to the public plan is from insurers who don’t want to be checked and providers who don’t want to see their profit margins squeezed. I could imagine a program called a “co-op” that was designed so as to be an effective check on insurers and squeezer of providers, but the same people who don’t want a robust public option wouldn’t want that either. So you’re back to square one.
As far as the Republicans go, their leadership has made it clear that they intend to oppose anything in hopes of denying the White House a “win.” The relevant issue is whether any specific GOP members are willing to break with that strategy. Lately, Chuck Grassley has gotten ever-more-explicit about the fact that the answer is “no.” So it becomes an issue of whether or not Olympia Snowe wants to play ball. Meanwhile, centrist Democrats who want to kill the public plan need to be made to at least stand up and take responsibility for what they’re doing — it’s they themselves who don’t want to create one.