February 16th, 2010
05:44 PM ET
5 years ago

Key Senate Democrats push for health care public option

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is one of four Senators who signed a letter urging Sen. Harry Reid to consider a rule known as reconciliation.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is one of four Senators who signed a letter urging Sen. Harry Reid to consider a rule known as reconciliation.

Washington (CNN) – The fight over health care reform burst back into public view Tuesday as four Democratic senators asked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to hold a vote on a government-run public insurance option.

Most observers have considered the public option - an idea long favored by liberal Democrats - to be a non-starter since it was dropped from a Senate reform bill passed in December. But Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, and Sherrod Brown of Ohio signed a letter urging Reid, D-Nevada, to hold a vote on the proposal under a rule known as a reconciliation, which would allow the measure to pass with only 51 votes - a simple majority.

The letter was co-signed by 119 Democrats in the House of Representatives.

Liberal groups MoveOn.org, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Democracy for America, and Credo Action are pushing other Democratic senators to sign the letter as well.

Health care reform has long been considered President Barack Obama's top domestic priority. Democrats, however, have been struggling to reach agreement on how best to pass a bill since Massachusetts GOP Sen. Scott Brown's upset victory last month in the race to fill the seat formerly held by Sen. Ted Kennedy.

Brown's win stripped Democrats of their 60-seat Senate supermajority and gave Republicans enough votes to block most legislation.

"We respectfully ask that you bring for a vote before the full Senate a public health insurance option under budget reconciliation rules," the letter states.

"There are four fundamental reasons why we support this approach - its potential for billions of dollars in cost savings; the growing need to increase competition and lower costs for the consumer; the history of using reconciliation for significant pieces of health care legislation; and the continued public support for a public option."

Use of reconciliation is limited to legislation affecting the budget and therefore could apply only to certain elements of the health care reform agenda.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Montana, told CNN in January that he thinks reconciliation will ultimately be necessary to pass a health care bill in the chamber. However, multiple Democratic aides have warned that using the controversial maneuver would take time and evoke criticism of relying on a procedural trick to pass a bill.

"It looks too partisan," said Rep. Gerry Connolly, a freshman Democrat from Virginia. Democratic Rep. Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota likened the move to "legislative trickery."

Proponents argue there is a precedent for using reconciliation, noting that it was recently used to pass measures such as an expansion of the Children's Health Insurance Program.

A number of conservative Democrats are urging Obama to craft a more narrowly tailored health care bill - excluding a public option - that can win at least some bipartisan support. Increasingly frustrated liberals argue it is pointless to pursue negotiations with what they characterize as an ideologically rigid GOP minority determined to block every White House initiative for short-term political gain.

Obama is scheduled to hold a televised health care summit with Republican leaders on February 25. The president has said the talks should involve true give-and-take negotiations as opposed to mere "political theater."

Obama said last week he wants the meeting - which also will include health care experts - to "establish some common facts" on the health care issue and reach agreement on the most pressing health care problems facing the country.

To signal his willingness to compromise, Obama said he would consider a Republican push to include limits on medical malpractice lawsuits in a health care bill if the proposal can be shown to truly reduce overall health care costs.

However, Obama said bipartisanship on health care reform cannot mean only that "Democrats give up everything they believe in."

"Bipartisanship depends on a willingness among both Democrats and Republicans to put aside matters of party for the good of the country," he said.

Obama has not yet given any public indication he is prepared to make a renewed push for a public option.

GOP congressional leaders have repeatedly said health care legislation already passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives should be completely scrapped.

"What we need to do is start over, go step-by-step on a truly bipartisan basis to try to reach an agreement," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, recently told reporters. "My members are open to doing that."


Filed under: Health care
soundoff (76 Responses)
  1. todd

    Sorry you had your chance, you had 60 votes and squandered them away, GAME OVER!

    February 16, 2010 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  2. Orange Curtain, CA

    Yes it is pointless to "reform" healthcare without a public option to give lower income and middle class citizens a real choice. The rich Republicans can go out and buy their own gold-plated Cadallic plans.

    February 16, 2010 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  3. Lisa

    Please pass the bill with the public option!! This is the reason Democrates left the party!! We were promised the PUBLIC OPTION!!!

    February 16, 2010 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  4. Lisa

    Everyone at my job in Las Vegas are rooting for the public option!

    February 16, 2010 05:54 pm at 5:54 pm |
  5. Liberalism is a Mental Disorder

    Yeah so much for the Feb 25th "bipartisan conference" nonsense that everyone knew was a fraud....they are still trying to ram through their radical lefty agenda even though the majority of Americans have not only spoken but have proven that they do not want their nonsense...

    Liberals are not trustworthy and do nothing but repeatedly spew lies and their sheeple believe them....how sad.

    It is clear they are going to get slaughtered in Nov already but if they pull this nonsense they will be destroyed!

    February 16, 2010 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  6. jack

    Everyone realizes this is the best idea...it's the reason they have spent millions and soun lies to kill it. Don't follow the idiots into a dark hole.

    February 16, 2010 05:56 pm at 5:56 pm |
  7. Four and The Door

    As if the Democrats didn't get enough grief for the way they abused a supermajority to pass the Stimulus Bill, propping up GM and Chrysler, the Wall Street bailouts and the Trade your Clunker Up for a Toyota Act?!?! Now they want to abuse a simple majority with political trickery to increase the cost of health care and make the Federal Government an even bigger overhead for the economy to support?

    February 16, 2010 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  8. N. Allen

    Go for it Dems!

    February 16, 2010 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  9. Liberal wing nut

    One big debt ridden gov't looking to expand its control.

    February 16, 2010 06:01 pm at 6:01 pm |
  10. Dwayne

    Come on Demy's, let's get this show on the road! Screw that fake, fabricated, so-called Tea Party movement. They're cause is manufactured. They behave more like an angry lynchmob. It's time for us to rally behind the Democrats and stand strong against these hateful wackos who's only mission is a self-centered, boundless greed. The American people need a public option, and these republicans and their fake Tea Party movement is designed to instill fear to keep you away from moving forward with it. That's the republican gingle! Yep, at it again playing at working Americans subconcious. Clean up the health care system and there is one huge step in creating a level playing field.

    February 16, 2010 06:09 pm at 6:09 pm |
  11. Elle in WA

    A public option is truly the only way to bring costs down. End of story. I think if the Dem's are willing to compromise and allow the Repubs to get their malpractice measures in, the Repubs should allow more competition by adding a public option. It doesn't mean everyone HAS to have a government-run healthcare plan, it just means we have the option to get it (for those of you critics out there who thing the gov is going to "control" your healthcare – you're dead wrong).

    Mr. President, I hope you grow a pair and really push Healthcare again. My family and I really need – and want – reform. And there are a LOT of others who want it too.

    February 16, 2010 06:10 pm at 6:10 pm |
  12. Former Republican, now an Independent

    This may be the only way to help middle class Americans, as the republicans are doing everything they can to block any progress on health care reform. The republican party knows that it will eventually prove to be a good thing and cost them future elections.

    February 16, 2010 06:10 pm at 6:10 pm |
  13. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    Thank God we have a few Senators with some guts!!!!!

    February 16, 2010 06:11 pm at 6:11 pm |
  14. Pre-existing condition

    About time they grew a spine... DO IT!

    February 16, 2010 06:16 pm at 6:16 pm |
  15. vwrtb

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! And thank you!

    February 16, 2010 06:17 pm at 6:17 pm |
  16. If I was crazy, I'd be a conservative too

    If the democrats get this done, we will see the end of the republican party for 20 years.

    February 16, 2010 06:18 pm at 6:18 pm |
  17. Mike in MN

    It's already been established that a bill with a public option can't pass.
    But aside from that, do the Democrats even care if a majority of the voters even want or support the health care bill they pass? After all, a health care reform bill will have an enormous impact on all the lives of American citizens.
    But given that Obama and Pelosi and Reid want to go forward with the bills that voters have already rejected, you would have to conclude they don't really care what the voters think. In fact they do admit they have heard the voice of the voters because they say the only reason voters don't like the bills is because they don't understand them, but they will learn to like them. So from Obama and Pelosi and Reid to voters, just stop trying to use your brains and let people smarter than you take care of you. That should go over real big with angry voters.

    February 16, 2010 06:19 pm at 6:19 pm |
  18. chris l

    I dare them to do it. LOL, Actually I do hope they ram it through. That would make it even more certain that the Radical anti American Liberal Party will lose complete control of congress. It would also put OBOZOS approval at about 30%. It may even force his ouster somehow before 2012. GOD, LIBERALS REALLY ARE STUPID. HILARIOUS

    February 16, 2010 06:23 pm at 6:23 pm |
  19. alex lyrics

    YES right on.

    Put that public option back in that darn bill.

    Lets Keep them Honest

    February 16, 2010 06:24 pm at 6:24 pm |
  20. Charlie in Maine

    Duplicate comment detected; it looks as though you’ve already said that!

    Well where is it then?

    February 16, 2010 06:24 pm at 6:24 pm |
  21. JBS

    I AGREE, let's see the Congress that is for the PEOPLE!!!

    Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado,
    Kirsten Gillibrand of New York,
    Jeff Merkley of Oregon,
    Sherrod Brown of Ohio signed a letter urging Reid, D-Nevada, to hold a vote on the proposal under a rule known as a reconciliation, which would allow the measure to pass with only 51 votes – a simple majority.

    I AGREE, let's see the Congress that is for the PEOPLE!!!

    February 16, 2010 06:28 pm at 6:28 pm |
  22. Jane/Seattle

    So show us the list of who signed this, CNN. I know Dennis Kucinich and Jim McDermott did or will! Without a Public Option, this Bill is useless except for profits to the Health Care Firms! Putting Dogs like Max Baucas in charge of it was not a good idea, either! They would not even let Single Payer folks into the debate and this is what we get for transparency? I am truly sickened by this country and it's total corruption in the hands of these self-servers of both parties!

    Fines to swell the government's WAR budgets? No, I will never buy this and be forced to pay your financial patrons! By the time you get this done, I'll be dead anyway. I'll be sure and put it all in writing for my kids and grandkids to avoid your filthy traps for the citizens who are forced to pay for your agenda of robbery of the people's Treasury!

    February 16, 2010 06:28 pm at 6:28 pm |
  23. ib

    the last poll I saw was that 60% of the people are against this plan. Why can't the demo's get it though their thick skulls that people don't want this???????????? I guess when they are voted out this fall then they might realize it but I doubt it.

    February 16, 2010 06:28 pm at 6:28 pm |
  24. Darrell

    Well, finally!!! The democratics were elect to govern. Let's Roll!!

    February 16, 2010 06:30 pm at 6:30 pm |
  25. mac from pa

    LETS get this one straight right off the bat.
    The GIVE ME CRATS arent struggling because of Senator Scott Brown'
    being elected. It is because the crats have no real leadership.
    Hope and Change? They certainly are giving alot of that to the right party.
    They be hoping to change some seat up in that senate. The republican party is ALIVE it was wounded not killed like most leftists thought.
    wasnt there a little blurb WE WON GET OVER IT from the left? OK you won NOW WHAT YOU GONNA DO KEEP BLAMING BUSH?

    February 16, 2010 06:30 pm at 6:30 pm |
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