September 29th, 2009
11:24 AM ET
9 years ago

Senate panel debates public option proposal for health care bill

WASHINGTON (CNN) - A Senate committee debating the only compromise health care bill so far took on the most contentious issue Tuesday - whether to include a government-run public health insurance option that is opposed by Republicans and some moderate Democrats.

Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia proposed an amendment to add the public option to the proposal before the Senate Finance Committee. Another Democratic senator, Charles Schumer of New York, also was expected to propose a public option amendment.

The Finance Committee is the last congressional panel to consider health care legislation before debate begins in the full House and Senate. Democratic proposals passed by another Senate committee and three House committees all include the public insurance option.

Republicans unanimously oppose the government-run insurance option, saying it would drive private insurers from the market and eventually bring a government takeover of the health care system. Democratic leaders reject that claim, saying the public option would provide needed competition for private insurers while making health coverage accessible to millions of people currently lacking health insurance.

Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Max Baucus and five other committee members - two fellow Democrats and three Republicans - negotiated the compromise proposal for months before Baucus brought the measure to the full panel. None of the three Republicans in the so-called "Gang of Six" negotiators has backed the proposal before the committee so far.

However, Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe, a moderate from Maine and one of the Gang of Six negotiators, has indicated she could go along with the Finance Committee proposal if changes are made. Snowe voted with Democrats on the panel
to defeat some Republican amendments last week, when the committee began debating the proposal.

Obama and Democratic leaders, aware of a rockier political climate due to mid-term congressional elections in 2010, insist a bill must pass this year to address spiraling health care costs that are threatening economic stability.
Republicans say they agree on the need to reform aspects of the health care system, but oppose the overhaul proposed by Democrats as too comprehensive and costly.

Both parties agree on major aspects of health care reform, including a halt to insurance company practices of denying coverage for pre-existing conditions and capping the annual out-of-pocket expenses of consumers for health care. They also agree on creating incentives for preventive health care to help lower overall costs.

In efforts to bridge differences, the Finance Committee proposal dropped the public insurance option and a mandate for all employers to provide health coverage. It would require individuals to have coverage or face a fine of up to $1,900 for a family of four, but includes subsidies to help low- and middle-income Americans obtain health care plans.

The committee began debating the compromise measure last week, with contentious arguments erupting over Democratic proposals to reduce subsidies for some Medicare coverage while eliminating fraud and waste in the government health care plan for senior citizens.

Republicans argued the changes would reduce benefits for senior citizens, but Democrats say the overall effect would be minor. Some advocacy groups cite reports that the amount of money involved is no more than 5 percent of overall
Medicare spending and therefore won't adversely affect benefits for the elderly.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said the Finance Committee proposal would cost $774 billion over 10 years, but amendments adopted so far have likely increased the overall price tag. By contrast, the CBO said Democratic proposals would cost more than $1 trillion over 10 years.

In the House, Democratic leaders planned a series of meetings beginning Tuesday on merging the three versions passed out of House committees while

bringing down the overall cost by $200 billion. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last week she expected a final version for consideration by the full chamber soon, but she was unable to provide a specific timetable.

Fiscally-minded "Blue Dog" Democrats in the House - and conservative Democrats in the Senate - are worried about estimates of how much the plans will cost.

With prospects dim for any Republican support for a health care bill, the Democratic leadership wants to bring liberals, progressives and conservatives in their party together to use its majority in both chambers to pass a bill this year.

In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada needs 60 votes to overcome a possible Republican filibuster. There are 60 seats in the Democratic Senate caucus, but some are independents or moderates unlikely to support a public option or some of the most costly reforms.

Reid could implement a legislative option known as reconciliation, which would only require 51 votes to pass a health care bill. However, Republicans warn against such a move as shortsighted legislative warfare that would sow deep and long-lasting division.

Snowe has proposed a possible compromise - a "trigger" mechanism that would create a public option in the future if specific thresholds for expanded coverage and lower costs are not met. The trigger has yet to be included in any
proposal so far.

Filed under: Health care • Senate
soundoff (62 Responses)
  1. geecee

    Please let's have a public option. Don't mess this up Congress. Do what's right this time.

    September 29, 2009 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  2. Reconsidering my 2010 Vote

    Come on Dems. Stop all of your Rhetoric and vote on it already. You have the majority – pass it and take ownership of it , if it's such a great plan, what are you afraid of ??

    September 29, 2009 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  3. Tony

    How can there Democrats choose to totally ignore the AMERICAN PUBLIC who have sound loudly and firmly NO!!! Come on 2010 and 2012, Americans will have lots to undo with this nightmare of an out of control administration.

    September 29, 2009 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  4. bob in LA

    Before all you nay-sayer start the hate spewing posts- THEY ARE EXPLORING! That means they are talking!
    LET THEM TALK! See what comes out of the discussion before you form an opinion.

    September 29, 2009 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  5. Billy J ..Texas..

    The lions share of Democrats are wooses, some of them are crooks. The majority of Republicans are flat out crooks and completely in the pockets of the lobbyists and monied friends.

    The country is screwed. If we can't get get a public option and a universal mandate that everyone buy insurance, then anything else they pass, public without mandate, or mandate without public, is just a big sloppy kiss for the insurance companies. The very rats who have so greedily mismanaged us into this mess. ( Just like the bankers)

    September 29, 2009 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  6. Luke

    Who cares about private insurers? Only the senators they give money to. Private insurance cares about profit, not the people and hospitals they screw over to make as much money as possible. I say let them die if they can't adapt.

    September 29, 2009 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  7. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    Reform without an public option is not reform. Competition is the only way to bring down costs and the most effective way to do that is a public oprion. PERIOD!

    September 29, 2009 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  8. Ray

    Tell you what - let's make health care very easy. So simple, even the GOP could follow it.

    Let's make American health care FREE for all American citizens, whether native born, natural born or naturalized.

    That way, we don't have to worry about the insurance companies.

    Now, how to pay for all that health care - since the pharmaceutical companies have been fleecing the public for years with overpriced drugs, let them pay for it. Oh, and the hospitals! They've been overcharging for everything from a simple blanket to major surgery. They should have enough money bilked from the American public to keep them going for years.

    September 29, 2009 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  9. Dewey


    Wake me up when something new happens with this...time for hibernation...

    September 29, 2009 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  10. Thomas

    Let's get back to basics

    What are the goals of "health reform"?

    Can these goals be reached without a public plan?

    If no, then we either need a public plan or we need to remove that goal.

    If yes, we need to evaluate a non-public plan with a public plan and see which one works best.

    Come on congress, this is basic problem solving skills. Put the politics away for once!

    September 29, 2009 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  11. Sian Rose

    Medicaid is the public option. People who receive Medicaid benefits have lower cost, more comprehensive coverage than what many Americans have to work and pay for, the ones who can afford coverage. Posturing for political gain while hardworking people sit in limbo waiting for Washington to decide our fate is hardly prudent. Skip the public option, fine tune the current proposal and stop talking about abortion. No insurance company pays for abortions, except in extreme circumstances.

    September 29, 2009 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  12. Fair is Fair

    Meanwhile, the Obama administration is searching for a cook to fry up some bacon to go with the anticipated egg on the president's face as a result of his Copenhagen trip. When asked to comment, sources told CNN that the president replied, "Meet me in Rio".

    September 29, 2009 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  13. Four and The Door

    What is it that the Democrats who support spending hundreds of billions of the US Treasury dollars for the public option know that the Republicans and most Americans don't know? Do they have a stash of $800 billion somewhere that they are just not telling us about?

    The answer is no, they don't. They just do not take management of American tax dollars as something they are actually responsible for. This is why we will be voting for someone else to manage our treasury in 2010 and 2012.

    September 29, 2009 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  14. Willy Brown

    Time to vot eout all who would support the communist option

    September 29, 2009 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  15. Death Assurance Companies

    Lets put the CEOs of these companies in tent cities and see how they like it.March on a Death Assurance Company today in your neighborhood and dont forget your picket sign.These people are the lowest lifeform on the planet,next to the politicians that are working for them.

    September 29, 2009 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  16. sifto77

    Why on earth would libs push a public option when majority of Americans do not want it? Are these politicians that removed from reality?

    September 29, 2009 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  17. Mike

    Anyone stupid enough to believe a private company can compete with the government and not be run out of business is to stupid to live. No wonder liberals are to become extinct.

    September 29, 2009 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  18. Keith in Austin

    If our Democrat leaders move to a reconciliation vote to pass a Public Option on Healthcare against the overwhelming majority of Americans opposing it, a rapid implosion of the Democrat Party will ensue!

    This is yet another example of how their thirst for socialism and power by having greater government control is far greater than their will to represent the their constituants! Utterly remarkable. Charles Schumer is and always has been a liberal embarrasment! Vote him, Frank, Dodd, Reid, Pelosi and the rest of Nobama's lefty bloodsuckers OUT America!

    September 29, 2009 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  19. Melissa

    Give us a public option. This country loves competition so much, lets give the company's some competition to force them to be more honest. It won't put the company's out of business so long as they stop acting like slimeballs.

    September 29, 2009 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  20. Bluebonnet

    Let this crap go for Pete's sake. 56% of the American people do NOT want a public option – in other words, more freebies for the people that forever have their hands out! I am sick and tired of supporting all of the entitlement people. Where do they get off thinking everyone that works owes the lazy bums a living??

    September 29, 2009 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  21. Mario, mtl, ca.

    About time,,,

    September 29, 2009 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  22. sharong58

    I thought we already had a public option that we are already paying taxes on! It's called the public aid medical card and/or medicaid for public aid recipients who have disabilities and no insurance? Why don't they just enhance the program that's already in place!?
    And why doesn't everybody quit grumbling about helping the poor who have no insurance! We have already been paying for them for years!!! Me too, I work! Furthermore, the people on the program aren't necessarily illiterate, slobs, druggies, and bums . . they could be down on their luck auto workers, who worked for years while management mismanaged everything!!!

    September 29, 2009 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  23. JohnS

    Over 80% of the Insurance Market in many states are controlled by 2 insurance companies. Is this competition?

    A Strong and Robust PUBLIC OPTION is coming.

    September 29, 2009 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  24. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    YES to the public option! When are you stupid lemmings going to realize that the Republicans don't care about you or your family?

    September 29, 2009 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  25. Zach K

    Kennedy might be gone, but the idea of Public Option still lives.

    You have the advantage Democrats! Let the American People have the Public Option!

    September 29, 2009 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
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