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. Mike

    nobama and his liberal democrats are still out for government run health care. Do you know the difference between God and nobama. God does not believe he is nobama.

    September 29, 2009 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  2. Dad of a Diabetic

    The fact that Republicans oppose a government option is not a suprise. After all, they opposed Social Security Benefits for widows and orphans. They opposed Government Health insurance for the elderly, disabled and for poor children. Now, they oppose Government help to the thousands of Children who live with deadly diseases, and are uninsurable when they become young adults. Children with juvenile diabetes are uninsurable, and the Republicans want to keep these Kids uninsurable. Diabetes also makes these Kids unemployable to small businesses who offer insurance, because hiring a sick Kid would make the small business' health insurance rates skyrocket!!!! The Republicans did nothing for the last 8 years to help these uninsurable kids, and now they are doing everything possible to keep these Kids uninsurable. I do not understand Christian Conservatives who say that sick children should not ask the Government for help, and that the Government should not help them. Have they ever read the story of Lazarus, and what happened to the man who refused to help the needy????

    September 29, 2009 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  3. Roger

    I really do not care if the public option forces the insurance companies out of business....they are nothing but a bunch of rich most of congress expecially the GOP members....I am fortunate & blessed to have insurance through my employer BUT I still do not have a choice of a Dr that is not in their network, also it costs my employer around $700 a month for me I have NO sympathy for the insurance companies, republicans who don't want reform or any of the democrats who do not support reform or a public option....

    September 29, 2009 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  4. AJ

    Republicans ALWAYS oppose anything that would help people rather than corporations. Health care "reform" without a public option will be no reform at all, just another give away for the insurance industry.

    September 29, 2009 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  5. Mike in MN

    This should be interesting.
    I wonder if the debate will include the video clip of Obama a couple of years ago giving a speech to a union. In it he clearly states he is for single payer universal health care, but says that you can't rid of private employer based insurance over night. It will have to be phased out over 10, 15, 20 years. Then follow up that clip with the one of Barney Frank this year clearly saying that the pubic option can be used to begin a transistion to single payer.
    It is clear that the reform being pushed by the liberal Democrats with the public opiton is all about getting rid of private insurance and moving to single payer universal government health care.

    September 29, 2009 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  6. Kimberly from Hawaii

    We need a Public Option, and as a democrat I expect our law makers to include on in any bill that passes. The Republicans are the minority in the house and senante because voters made it that way, we don't want their leadership, because after 8 years look where it got us.
    We can pass a bill without any Republicans, so let's do it.
    Republicans were against Medicare when it was passed as well (actually until about two weeks ago they were against medicare) so I don't think any democrats should be listening to them.

    September 29, 2009 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  7. RTB

    Let's see -on national t.v.- exactly which of the Senators are receiving how much money from the insurance industry. Then we will know why they are voting the way they are. It is time to know why some of our elected officials are not doing their job. If 65% of the American people support a public option it is obvious why the reform can't get through congress. Where are Obama and Biden ? Call out the rascals who are taking money from the insrance companies.

    September 29, 2009 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  8. JDM

    We the people of the U. S. in order to form a more perfect Union....establish this Consititution for the U. S. of America. This was the beginning of our goverment that stands today! If the base of your argument is against the public option because your afriad of the goverment! The you need to leave this country. THE CONSITITUTION IS THE GOVERMENT! I WANT THE OPTION NOT TO GET RIPPED BY A PRIVATE INSURANCE COMPANY! EDUCATION YOURSELVES.

    September 29, 2009 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  9. Debbie - Ohio

    Yest on the public option!! We need it! Blue Dogs had better come around, or you're out!

    September 29, 2009 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  10. gfoos

    A public option is the only true way to ensure those with less (status, money, education,opportunity) get treated fairly. Please pass a Public Option!

    September 29, 2009 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  11. Jon-In-CA

    NO public option!

    NO benefits for illegal aliens!

    NO tax-payer funds!

    YES to interstate competition

    YES to serious Tort Reform

    YES to tax-credits

    Americans want REFORM – not a Government Takeover. Ignore the American people at your own political peril!

    September 29, 2009 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  12. Truth time

    Health Care Reform is a Joke without a strong Public option

    Health Care reform is a Joke without a strong Public Option

    Health Care Reform is a Joke without a strong Public Option

    Ha Ha Jokes on you America.......Once again the clowns in the Senate are throwing cream pie in your face, and laughing all the way to the bank.

    End the Great American Rip off

    End the Scam ,End the Shell game

    Health Care Reform is a joke without a STRONG PUBLIC OPTION

    September 29, 2009 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  13. glib lib

    doesn't anyone realize the public option is the comprimise. Liberals want single payer, conservatives want business as usual. The public option is something everyone should be able to live with. But I guess the republicans are going to say no to whatever the democrats propose, whether it is good for the country or not.

    September 29, 2009 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  14. Wake Up

    Govt. can't even get children to school, how can it be in charge of health care for the nation!! We are trusting this to Chicago politics Obama???? As a chicagoan, I'm sickened today. Daley, Obama, Durbin, have done nothing to stop 30 kids getting killed for the crazy act of GOING TO SCHOOL.

    September 29, 2009 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  15. Moderate Democrat

    Put it to a vote. Let it be defeated, and then let us vote out every Republican and Democrat that opposed it, electing only officials that will vote for a Health Care plan that will vote YES on a Public Option reform.

    September 29, 2009 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  16. David

    Public backlash coming. Too many are wise to the fact the public option is nothing but a government takeover. Think Wal-Mart coming into town and putting others out of business. That is what it is and they know it.

    September 29, 2009 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  17. deborah/kansas city

    Republicans unanimously oppose any option, any change, any progress for Americans. Although the present bill from the Sentate should be very attractive to them, since it would be a huge transfer of wealth, once again, from the middle class to big industry. Just the kind of thing they always demand. Democrats will be making a huge mistake not to have a public option like they promised in the election.

    September 29, 2009 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  18. RobK

    Unfortunately the Democrats have not addressed how costs would be controlled in the public option. It is simply a blank check to doctors and hospitals, as well as those who seek to defraud the government. Now if the public option was not funded by the taxpayers, that would be a different story. Then I wouldn't care, since it would be those using the public option that would have to pay for inefficiencies and fraud.

    September 29, 2009 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  19. Centrist

    The CBO also reported the public option would not takeover the system, and private insurers would continue to obtain the majority of participants.

    The public option is still supported by the majority of Americans (65%) to improve competition. Sen. Snowe's proposal of a public option trigger seems a reasonable compromise for health-care reforms.

    Most Americans simply want to know there is a backup incentive in place for our families' security going forward.

    September 29, 2009 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  20. Jane/Seattle

    Hey, Dems: GET ON THIS NOW AND TAKE OUT THAT CRAPPY PENALTY OF 2.5% FOR FOLKS WHO CANNOT AFFORD IT NOW! IF WE CAN'T AFFORD IT NOW, HOW DO YOU THINK WE WILL AFFORD TO PAY AFTER YOU TRY TO PUNISH US FOR THE CRAP WAGES YOUR BUDDIES PAY US NOW? YOU PASS THIS MESS, YOU WILL FOREVER LOSE THIS VOTER! YOU WILL HAVE PROVEN THAT YOU are ALL FOR SALE TO THE HIGHEST BIDDER. Since, we the people, are paying the freight, I think we have the right to call this one or you will ALL be gone to a lobbying firm soon! We the People ARE America! It is by the consent of the governed that you enjoy the wealth you take from us! Get it? We will RISE UP against this order if you pay us only lip-service and help the robber barons any further. What do you think, We are stupid!? Try again, Boys and Girls! The Giant Is Awakening! Peace, Love, And Non-Violence, this is the only way!

    September 29, 2009 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  21. Barry In Las Vegas

    A perfect example of Democrats thumbing their nose at the American peoples wishes.

    It's all about big government controlling every aspect of our lives. NO THANKS.

    Can't wait for the next elections so we can get these idiots out of office and out of our lives.

    September 29, 2009 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  22. JP

    Only 2 types of people are for a public option. The ones who want to destroy private health insurance and stupid people who think it won’t. If you are dumb enough to believe that if the U.S. government built its own car dealerships next door to existing dealerships and sold the same cars but didn't need to make a profit or pay taxes and told the automakers they would pay less for each car than the non government dealerships and you believed the old dealerships would be just fine, then Obama's lies worked.

    Obama said, "defensive medicine that maybe contributing to unnecessary costs" there is no maybe YOU LIE. Let me give you the maybe number Mr. President lawyer and chief its 150 billion a year. So why do YOU LIE about this because, the trial lawyer campaign contributions dollars you receive are more important to you than my tax dollars. Your window dressing only tort reform statement is a joke. I am sure putting Kathleen Sebelius former head of the Kansas trial bar in charge of looking at the issue will yield nothing. Putting her in charge of this important reform is like making Jack the ripper your surgeon general. To get the truth on this issue check out Howard Dean video statement on the trial lawyers.

    September 29, 2009 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  23. Marie MD

    And we care about what the repugs say because . . . . . .? If we are going to pass healthcare let's do it right. The moral (loud , bigotted and uneducated )majority is neither

    September 29, 2009 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  24. Christian Values

    It is a christians duty to support public option. Health Insurance should not be denied to those in need. Republicans who claim to be christian but then oppose the public option, are of the mind set that you only have to 'act' christian one day a week and talk about it the other six.

    Being a christian is something you have to do seven days a week, not just when it's convenient. I will pray for my brothers and sisters who 'THINK" they are christian but actually are advocates of a system that is nothing short of legalized genocide (such as the current 'for profit health care system' we have).

    September 29, 2009 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  25. Typical Republican

    I want TORT reform...who cares that it's been tried in Texas and did absolutely NOTHING to control out of control costs. I'm a full blown retard and think that TORT reform is some kind of answer.

    I also believe in Trickle Down Economics, WMD's in Iraq, Torture as a sport, cheating on your wife and shooting friends on your time off.

    September 29, 2009 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
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