WASHINGTON (CNN) – Comments by a bipartisan trio of moderate senators Sunday suggest that the Obama administration and more liberal Senate Democrats could be in for a fight if plans to overhaul the nation’s health care delivery system focus primarily on a public health insurance option.
Moderate Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said Sunday that she found an approach involving private health insurance co-operatives “far preferable to the government-run plan that has been discussed by the administration.”
Sen. Ben Nelson of Omaha, a moderate Democrat, struck a similar note, suggesting that his party should look first at trying to make current private health insurance options operate more effectively and for more people.
“I think the government role can be a back-up,” Nelson said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union.
“What we want to do is we want to make sure that we preserve what’s there,” Nelson added, “and be able to have competition but to do it in a way that you don’t destabilize the insurance for 200 million Americans [while] trying to provide for 42 to 46 million Americans to have health insurance as well.”
Democrat Kent Conrad, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, was blunt about the upcoming consideration of health care reform in the Senate.
“The problem is votes,” Conrad told CNN Chief National Correspondent John King. “I think you are in a 60-vote environment,” said Conrad, rejecting the possibility of using special Senate rules that would require just 51 votes to pass health care reform. “And that means you’ve got to attract some Republicans as well as holding virtually all of the Democrats together. And that I don’t believe is possible with the pure public option. I don’t think the votes are there.”
The senators also signaled Sunday that major battles are ahead over how to pay for health care reform.
Asked whether the country could afford health care reform right now, Sen. Collins responded that “the president’s budget projects deficits that simply are not sustainable in the long run.”
While not disagreeing with Collins about the long-term financial implications of the president’s plans, Sen. Conrad said health care reform should be carried out now even with its potentially high price tag.
“We can’t afford not to,” he said. “This is something that we simply must do for our families, for our businesses, for the country itself.”