(CNN) - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a clear message Thursday to congressional negotiators on the health-care bill - dropping the public option would destroy any chance for comprehensive reform.
"There is no way I can pass a bill in the House of Representatives without a public option," she told an audience at her home district in San
The speaker said she agreed with President Barack Obama that a public option is "the best way to keep the insurance companies honest (and) that it would be the best way to increase competition so that we can lower cost, improve quality of care, retain choice, and expand coverage."
"If somebody can come up with a better idea, let them put it on the table," she said. "We haven't heard that yet. So we're fighting very hard for
the public option."
A government-sponsored health insurance option has been cleared by three committees in the House as well as by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.
But a bipartisan group of six negotiators on the Senate Finance Committee - the last committee that needs to clear health care legislation before it can be taken up on the Senate floor - is currently considering dropping a government-funded public health insurance option in favor of non-profit cooperatives that would negotiate collective polices for members.
One of the key Democratic negotiators, North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad, has insisted that a public health option cannot get the 60 votes required to overcome a Senate filibuster.
Some top Democrats have responded in recent days by hinting that they may instead try to short-circuit the traditional Senate legislative process by passing a health-care bill through an obscure tactic known as reconciliation, a type of budget maneuver that requires only a simple majority - 51 votes - to pass.
Such a maneuver would boost the prospects for Senate passage of a public health option.
Pelosi said Thursday that while she supports good-faith efforts at bipartisan compromise, co-ops are not an acceptable substitute for a public
"If someone thinks that a co-op can work for their state, that's fine," she said. "If they want to have one for their state, perhaps that could be
included in the legislation. But it is not a substitute for a public option."
Pelosi was adamant that Democrats need to take full advantage of the fact that they now control the White House and have unusually large House and Senate majorities.
"Let me just be very clear," she said. "If we don't pass this bill with all the comprehensive aspects of it now, I don't know when we'll have a chance to do it."