Nate Silver crunches the numbers and says it's unlikely. Using a negotiation model built by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, an NYU political scientist, Silver models a complex negotiation with 12 parties, each with their own end goal, and even adjusting the variables in a variety of ways, the best he could come up with was a HCR bill with a weak public option.
Still, perhaps the most important finding of the model is that the outcome was relatively robust. Although there are a number of things that Democrats could have done a bit better, essentially all of the scenarios that I tested produced a score between a 50 -- a bill something like Senate Finance Committee's -- and a 60 -- a weak public option. It would probably not have been possible to get a strong public option (much less anything resembling single payer) even if a number of variables were changed within reasonable boundaries.
This squares, in any event, with my intuition. No matter how clever progressives and activist groups might have been, they were enmeshed in a complex negotiation that:
(i) necessarily required the approval of a certain number of Blue Dogs;
(ii) featured some parties -- Republicans and lobbyists -- who had limited but nonzero influence and who were actively trying to do undo any settlement;
(iii) was overseen by a series of party leaders (Pelosi, Reid, Obama) who have institutional incentives to broker a compromise, regardless of their (fairly liberal) personal preferences and,
(iv) was constrained by an ambivalent public.
The influence of any one group in what is essentially a 10- or 12-way negotiation is liable to be fairly limited, no matter how wisely they select their strategy -- and to suggest otherwise probably reflects a certain amount of self-importance.
The usual caveats apply -- this is just a model, it's not foolproof, Silver's assumptions might not be correct, and so on -- but the result squares with my intuition, also. Those who think progressives could have forced a stronger bill through by being tougher seem to be wishcasting.
And of course, no healthcare bill has passed yet, so even the predicted outcome might be optimistic.
The web version of Mesquita's model, if you want to predict the outcome of your next complex negotiation (will she make me see Bounty Hunter, or can I get her to see Hot Tub Time Machine with me instead?) is here.