December 8th, 2009
12:36 PM ET
7 months ago

Senate Democrats continue talks on health care compromise

At the request of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a group of ten moderate and liberal Senate Democrats are meeting to try to hash out their differences on health care reform.
At the request of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a group of ten moderate and liberal Senate Democrats are meeting to try to hash out their differences on health care reform.

Washington (CNN) - Liberal and moderate Senate Democrats said Tuesday they were continuing negotiations on a package of alternatives to a government-run public health insurance option in the chamber's sweeping health care bill.

The negotiating senators said the ideas under discussion would replace the controversial public option in a compromise intended to win the support of the chamber's entire Democratic caucus.

Senate Republicans unanimously oppose the health care bill so far, and it will require support from all 60 members of the Democratic caucus for it to pass.

"I think we know where the fault lines are," said Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, one of the liberals in the talks. "Still, at this point, but they're not necessarily easy ones to overcome. Things have been narrowed, but there are still very significant issues."

Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, who is leading the negotiations, said the talks would continue throughout Tuesday in the face of remaining "bumps in the road."

"There are many bumps in the road because everyone's giving," Schumer said. "Again, the overall framework, the way I put it is: some in our caucus want more government involvement, some in our caucus want less government involvement. The question is, how do you thread that needle?"

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who asked for the talks involving five liberal and five moderate Senate Democrats to work out differences on key health care issues, wanted an agreement by Tuesday. Participants said they were working to meet that deadline, but offered no promises.

"It may be a triumph of hope over experience, but I'm a hopeful person," said Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, one of the moderates involved in the talks.

On Monday, Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin conceded that any resulting compromise was unlikely to make anyone happy.

"Is it something that I like? No," said Harkin, a liberal. "It isn't something moderates or conservatives like either. It's one of those things in the middle that doesn't make everyone happy."

Asked if he could live with it, Harkin said: "It's something I'm probably going to have to live with."

An alternative to the public option strongly opposed by some moderate Democrats is the main focus of the talks that began last week.

According to an aide to one of the senators involved in the talks, one provision under discussion would have private insurers seek approval from the government's Office of Personnel Management to provide coverage for people in state insurance exchanges being created by the bill.

Currently, private insurers must get such approval to offer coverage in the federal health insurance program for government workers.

By participating in the exchanges, the private insurers would limit their profits, just as they do for taking part in the federal workers' plan, according to the senator's aide. The fee-for-service plans for federal workers can earn private insurers a service charge of up to 1 percent, with the average charge being about 0.75 percent.

The senator's aide said the goal is to create low-profit or non-profit competition for private insurers that public option supporters contend is vital for real health insurance reform.

Such an alternative to the public option would avoid the government-funded or government-run label opposed by moderate Democrats, while providing liberal Democrats the lower-priced competition they seek.

Meanwhile, some of the senators in the talks said another idea is to allow Americans to buy into Medicare starting at age 55. Currently, Medicare coverage for senior citizens begins at age 65, with some exceptions.

The idea appeals to liberal Democrats seeking to expand health coverage to more Americans, and could offset their opposition to a bill that lacks a full public option as originally proposed.

However, issues of when to implement the lower age for Medicare eligibility and how to pay for it were still being worked out, according to sources close to the talks.

Other ideas in the package under discussion include expanding the Medicaid program more than currently called for in the bill, and expanding a proposal in the bill that gives money to states to allow them to cover
low-income people through existing programs instead of Medicaid, the senator's aide said.

Senators taking part in the talks include Schumer and liberals Feingold, Harkin, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, along with moderates Carper, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas.

The Democratic caucus contains 60 seats in the 100-member chamber, which is the minimum number needed to overcome a filibuster. If any Democratic caucus members balk at the public option, the party would need some Republicans to back the bill in order for it to pass.

–CNN's Ted Barrett contributed to this story.


Filed under: Democrats • Health care • Senate
soundoff (48 Responses)
  1. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    A public option is the only way to bring down costs you idiots.

    December 8, 2009 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  2. www.circleparkforum.com

    Yesterday, Sen Harry Reid (D-NV) went onto the Senate floor to make some comments that on their face seem stupid – equating meaningless GOP efforts to block health care reform with efforts to block the end of slavery – in order to distract as many people as possible from the fact that he created this panel of ten Democrats to kill a public health insurance option.

    Let no one forget that Senator Harry Reid led the way in killing a public health insurance option.

    December 8, 2009 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  3. Tony

    Love it. The Dums are getting so desparate, that loony Reid is invoking slavery. He is too dumb to know that it was his own PARTY that was getting in the way of abolishing slavery. Now the Dums in the Senate, are going to have to strip away the public option to even come close to passing it. Which means that a horrible bill, becomes even worse. And the Pelosi numbskulls, will never pass it without the public nightmare. So mission accomplished, the BILL WILL DIE!!!!. Then after the loony left is voted out in droves, we can do real reform that doesn't cost us our future.

    December 8, 2009 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  4. Randolph Carter

    Comprimise is the key word in this headline. Imagine if we had a single-payer system like the rest of the world. Imagine how much more competitive our businesses large and small would be if they weren't saddled with outrageous employee insurance costs. I thought you republicans were pro-business. Have a nice day!

    December 8, 2009 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  5. Enough

    It's all about the rest of us paying for someone elses health care coverage. There should come a point in society where people are responsible for themselves and their families. Truly needy people will always be helped, but now the rest of us are being forced to pay for other peoples decisions in life. Still can't figure out what is wrong with expecting people to pay for their own health care coverage if they need it. I pay for mine.

    December 8, 2009 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  6. Hackworth

    The Definition of CONSERVATIVE Government:

    Social regression. Any efforts made to better unify and progress a nation to higher social and civil standards will be met with unwavering, adamant, political agenda. An exclusively collective and machinist mind set.

    December 8, 2009 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  7. Four and The Door

    So while the rest of the country is either unemployed or cut back to bare bones because the economy is continuing to tank, Senate Democrats are spending all of their efforts horse-trading to come up with a health care bill nobody will be happy with and nobody can afford. They need another recess so they can get out of Washington DC and come back to Main Street so we can tell them again how much we do not want what they are cramming down our throats.

    December 8, 2009 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  8. Mike in MN

    Democrats still can't figure this out.
    And all polls show a majority of votes to not support the current version of the bills in the House and Senate.
    Republicans are unanamous in thier oppostion to these bills. They are in agreement with the majority of voters. But they are not invited to the particiapate in writing the bills.
    Obama's Gallup approval rating is now down to 47%, the lowest for any president at this time since Gallup has been polling. And still he and the Democrats ignor the will of the people and try to find a way to cram a health care reform bill down their throats that they do not want.

    December 8, 2009 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  9. B

    This health care legislation is going to get so watered down to wind up worthless to the people that need it the most.

    Again we will see Corporate America drag middle America backwards by their unyielding Greed..

    December 8, 2009 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  10. vegage

    Larry Reid just made a recount of history. It is absolutely true that who opposed to the abolition of slavery were conservatives, who opposed women equal rights and women right to vote were again conservatives, who opposed civil rights for black people and other minorities were conservatives, who opposed to equal pay to women are conservatives, who opposed to hate crimes bill were conservatives, who opposed to the creation of social security were conservatives, who opposed to the creation of the Medicare were conservatives. Conservatives have been again and again in the wrong side of history and fairness, conservatives are equal to republicans. Who are opposing now? HELLO !!!!

    December 8, 2009 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  11. Dan, TX

    Compromise. It is ok if it isn't so good, it can be fixed into universal health care later. Let's just get our foot in the door. Public option or not, once this bill is passed, universal payer is inevitable within the decade.

    December 8, 2009 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  12. Keepin It Real

    Are you people serious? Do you honestly believe that this health care bill was cause the insurance premium to go up.

    THINK people. If that was the case the insurance company would back this bill 100%. When did the insurance company ever cared about the American people. As long as the insurance company pockets keeps getting bigger and the CEO's can buy bigger homes and better vacation spots, it's fine with them.

    WAKE UP AMERICA! THE INSURANCE COMPANIES DO NOT CARE ABOUT THE AMERICAN PEOPLE. THEY ONLY CARE ABOUT THEIR POCKETS.

    December 8, 2009 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  13. Hammerer

    The Obama, Harry and Nancy political machine has lost touch with reality!Now they are wanting to cut $500 billion from medicare, $400 billion from medicaid and add 45 million new people to the rolls. They have lost control! Now anything that anyone can think of that might buy a vote to pass a bill that is the worst plan that Reid could put together.
    It is time to put a stop to this madness and send them home.

    December 8, 2009 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  14. dan

    The ultra right wing democrats opposing health care are doing that for the same reason all republicans oppose health care – they have been bought and paid for by the insurance-scam and healthcare-scam industries. Nelson, Baucus and Lieberman are all among the highest money grabbers from the scam industries. Shame on them. They are traitors to the American People, 70% of whom want a single payer system. They have sold us out.

    December 8, 2009 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  15. Henry Miller, Libertarian

    How about this for a "compromise?" Scrap the whole thing.

    Only 41% of American voters favour what Congress is doing; 53% oppose it. For Congress to continue to try to impose this bill on people who don't want it is simple tyranny.

    December 8, 2009 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  16. Obama/Biden

    is the rich people with the power to hire and fire are holding president Obama on the neck and not hiring any body just to make the president look bad and say that he is a do nothing president with high unemployment during his term and prevent him from getting reelected.

    December 8, 2009 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  17. Larry S

    Who do these stupid people think is going to pay for the cost of this extravaganza? Stupidity runs wild in Congress!!!

    December 8, 2009 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  18. Gary

    Harry Reid is a MORON, just like his liberal, tax-and-spend cohorts who are spending $$ like it is going out of style. Hopefully, more Americans will think for themselves and vote these silly idiots like Reid and Pelosi out in 2010.

    Liberals are liars, cheats and NEVER to be trusted!

    December 8, 2009 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  19. aneanderthal

    The big lies continue to come from the Congressional leadership and of course the liar in chief. You know, the one that said he would not raise taxes on the middle class then signed his first bill (SCHIP) which raised taxes on middle class Americans to pay for health care for illegal immigrant children. Need I go on. Obama lies and so does Reid and Pelosi.

    December 8, 2009 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  20. Larry S

    When will the dorks in Congress start talking about a reduced spending spree???? I guess they don't care about us without the same dollars as their own pockets. They get a raise, and I'm without a job. When will most people start requiring them to represent the people. I guess they do not care they are following a president with the worse ever approval rating at this point in his term. Of course, most of you are unaware of this because CNN is too ashamed to report.

    December 8, 2009 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  21. riddyD

    Why are there still people who defend this creep?

    December 8, 2009 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  22. Tim

    How many times do you think Reid's head will bobble back and forth when I slap him in the head?

    If there is a bigger idiot out there, I'm not sure where to find him.

    December 8, 2009 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  23. phoenix86

    Impeach Reid.

    December 8, 2009 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  24. Leiv

    Scrap the bill and start over. Yes to insurance reform, yes to tort reform, yes to giving the patients the right to choose their doctor, yes to drug reform, repel the SGR 21% cuts to Medicare starting Jan 1., the government has not been able to run anything what makes people think they can run a public option! Open up competition across state lines for insurances companies to compete. Make it so that insurance reform does not turn anyone away or increase their costs because of a pre-existing condition. Do this and we might have reform. Don't do this and you will have a mess on your hands. Doctors will cease to take medicare if they drop payments by 21%. They will stop taking Medicaid as so many have done already. Talk to your senators now and prevent one of the most terrible injustices of the century about to happen. I am a doctor and want to take care of patients but not if it takes away their rights to choose who they want to see and ruins Medicare in the process. Speak up America! Call your reps and senators!!

    December 8, 2009 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  25. Kim

    Any democrate voting aganist the public option should have their insurance dropped. Then maybe they will see what it's like living without healthcare.

    December 8, 2009 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
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