Washington (CNN) - The Senate's second-ranking Democrat said Sunday he was open to changing the government-run public health insurance option in the chamber's health care bill to ensure that the measure passes.
Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate assistant majority leader, said on the NBC program "Meet the Press" that the goal is to inject competition into the health insurance market in order to bring down costs and expand coverage to people unable to afford coverage now.
The public option is the most controversial provision in the $848 billion bill unanimously opposed by Republicans. Several conservative and moderate Democrats also have said they will oppose a final bill that includes the public option.
Asked about a possible compromise that would trigger a public option in the future if specific thresholds for coverage and costs go unmet, Durbin said there were "many variations on the theme."
"We are open because we want to pass the bill," Durbin said.
The Senate voted 60-39 on Saturday night to open debate on the sweeping bill that would overhaul the nation's ailing health care system. Democrats needed the support of their entire caucus, including two independents, to prevent Republicans from filibustering the start of debate.
Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who voted Saturday to start debate on the bill, reiterated Sunday he would join a Republican filibuster if the public option remains in the proposal when it comes time to end the debate.
"I don't think anybody feels this bill will pass" in its current form, Lieberman said on the NBC program, adding that the public option would be an unnecessary step now as the United States faces high unemployment and a growing federal deficit.
The procedural vote represented another milestone in what has become an epic battle over the future of America's health care system. The House of Representatives narrowly passed a bill with a price tag of more than $1 trillion earlier this month.
If the Senate also manages to pass a bill, a congressional conference committee will then need to merge the House and Senate proposals into a consensus version requiring final approval from each chamber before moving to President Barack Obama's desk to be signed into law.
The public option helps offset costs of the bill. It's inclusion would aid in deficit reduction and unemployment.
Without it, the government picks up the tab for the sick and elderly while the insurance industry gets to fleece the rest of us; corporate welfare at its finest.