February 16th, 2010
05:44 PM ET
4 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. Jimmy James

    Keep ignoring the public. Jam things thru. This will make November so much easier for republicans.

    February 16, 2010 06:31 pm at 6:31 pm |
  2. Proud to be the Party of NO Socialism!

    Please....please do that. Tell the American people you don't care about their opposition to the bill. Go forward as if they don't exist! It's for their OWN GOOD, which is something they'll figure out much later on!

    Do it! It'll make November, 2010 even better than it will otherwise be.

    February 16, 2010 06:33 pm at 6:33 pm |
  3. Robert Tulloch

    Mark Schauer signed up for this an will regret it.

    February 16, 2010 06:35 pm at 6:35 pm |
  4. DC Observer

    Talk about a group with a death wish. The public option will NEEVER pass the Sanate, and not because of republicans, but rather moderate Democrats

    One and done for Oblamo and his corrupt gangsters, tax cheats, and lobbyists

    Bye bye to Dodd, Specter, Reid, Liberman, and 10 other Dem senators and about 40 Dem congressman. It only took Oblamo 12 months to screw up this country badly

    February 16, 2010 06:36 pm at 6:36 pm |
  5. Concerned

    I used to like Michael Bennett... no longer plan on voting for him!

    February 16, 2010 06:37 pm at 6:37 pm |
  6. Vic of New York

    I thought Gillibrand was a "conserva-dem". She might get my vote after all!

    BTW - who were the original "Terrorists"? Christians! That's right! The reason Romans would throw Christians to the lions wasn't because of their religion. It was because the Christians were terrorists who would set fire to to Roman temples. In fact, Christians were responsible for setting off the fire that nearly burn down all of Rome! Sound familiar? Like maybe shades of 9/11?

    I guess you could say throwing Christians to the lions was the Roman equivalent of waterboarding!

    February 16, 2010 06:42 pm at 6:42 pm |
  7. Mike in MN

    I find it amusing that Obama is planning to use the bipartisan health care summit to get the Repubicans to talk about their ideas and then trash them so voters won't like them.
    But I don't think Obama has a clue what voters like or want. They defiintly don't want the current health care bills the House and Senate wrote and Obama likes. They do like some bits, but there are more bits they don't like then they do.
    How does Obama know if voters won't like the Repubican ideas? He might wind up trashing ideas voters really want. I guess that is why Obama is bring in his experts on health care. Does Obama just get to bring his own hand picked experts to trash the Republican ideas or do Repubicans also get to bring their experts to defend their ideas?
    Don't bet on the Republicans showing up and providing Obama a prop to trash their ideas if Republicans don't get to bring their own experts.

    February 16, 2010 06:43 pm at 6:43 pm |
  8. Susan in NC

    Just say YES to a public health care option!

    February 16, 2010 06:43 pm at 6:43 pm |
  9. Mark, Phoenix

    The current bill is a "truly bi-partisan effort." And the stench is from concessions made to the GOP who won't vote for it anyway. A new bill that succinctly outlining the key tenets will be heralded as a victory for all Americans. Reconcilliation is the way to go. Leave the obstructionists bleating in the dust.

    February 16, 2010 06:44 pm at 6:44 pm |
  10. Jack

    The Democratic Party needs to take a lesson from the republicans under the past Bush administration and that is to use their electoral mandate to get something done even if it means bypassing the filibuster.

    Do something now or risk losing their only chance this century!

    February 16, 2010 06:50 pm at 6:50 pm |
  11. Richard

    Keep the public option, pass Health Care regardless of what the right wing says. They will try to block anything Pres. Obama tries to do. "No" is not an option!

    February 16, 2010 06:53 pm at 6:53 pm |
  12. Brian from CA

    All's Fair on this one. Afterall, the republicans used reconcilliation to pass those HUGE tax breaks to the rich that ended up significant;y contributing the huge deficit they ran up. But NOW the Democrats are considering it and the Repubs are screaming foul and calling it the "nuclear option".

    Say it with everyone...."HYPOCRITES!!"

    It is SOOOOooooo amazing to me how soon and easily the American public forgets. Why isn't the media out there researching this stuff and reminding the public about this????

    February 16, 2010 06:54 pm at 6:54 pm |
  13. Scott

    A public option back on the table. Fantastic. Universal Health Care which the public option is not, works.
    It has in dozens of countries over decades. In fact one of those countries, Australia is arguably the economic envy of the world at the moment.

    February 16, 2010 06:57 pm at 6:57 pm |
  14. kk

    America need Health Reform with the Public Option.

    February 16, 2010 06:58 pm at 6:58 pm |
  15. Harold Edwards

    Mr. Obqma should keep his promise to have a public option and drop everything in the health care bill except the public option.that would simplyfi the process and we would have something,make a presidential order and bypass congress.

    February 16, 2010 06:58 pm at 6:58 pm |
  16. Thomas

    Health care might not happen this year, maybe not in the next eight years. But it will happen and we will then ask ourselves why it took so long . Just like energy efficient cars , high speed rail and healthy infrastructure.

    Remember those and there children who stood in the way of progress !

    You always pay less now and more later when you procrastinate on the future.

    February 16, 2010 07:04 pm at 7:04 pm |
  17. Thomas C. Taylor

    These cowards need to grow a backbone. We had 8 years of idiocy and outrages stuffed down our throats. Forget bi-partisan and listen to the street. Enough is enough. Either act or prepare for unemployment and, yes, that includes you Mr. President.

    February 16, 2010 07:15 pm at 7:15 pm |
  18. Liberal Dems

    I guess these liberal Democrats have NOT even seen what has happened or choose to ignore the voters.

    The mojority of the polls and americans say, they do not want a public option. The majority say they do not want any part of this Health Care bill,,,, they want reform, yes. But not this garbage the libs are pushing.

    But the libs just keep running thier own agenda down the voters throats,, I hope pay back at the voting booths solve this problem.

    February 16, 2010 07:16 pm at 7:16 pm |
  19. SC-Pub "no" more

    Lord, the Dems have awaken from their fearful slumber. Go for it!

    February 16, 2010 07:19 pm at 7:19 pm |
  20. Stop the Nonsense

    This is a smart move for so many reasons.
    First- it does what the President campaigned for and asked the Congress to do- vote on a healthcare bill.
    Second- we will have a better understanding of where the bill stands with the senate and then the house ( hopefully)
    Third- it will open up the debate that should have already taken place if it should fail. By not passing this bill will not be a win for Republicans. If it is handled correctly, come November the Democrats will be able to expose those Republicans that are using this as a political football. In debates all over the country, the REAL answers as to what they don't like about the bill will come out and expose the truth. Then the bill can be reintroduced with changes and we will finally have healthcare reform.
    80% of the original proposed bill was acceptable to Republicans- hwo did they let that slip into this mess we have now? where was there comprimise? Where was the Democrats comprimise to get this passed? BRING ON THE VOTE!

    February 16, 2010 07:21 pm at 7:21 pm |
  21. Katie B in NC

    Please, please, PLEASE bring back the public option! Sen. McConnell, what you and your members need to do is stand aside and let the majority govern.

    February 16, 2010 07:25 pm at 7:25 pm |
  22. Michael Capps

    It's time to give up on the GOP, and for the Dems to get some Back bone. If this was something the GOP wanted they would have pushed it thru. and not worried what the Dems wanted.

    February 16, 2010 07:28 pm at 7:28 pm |
  23. Message to Dems.....

    Americans by 60-30% do not want Obamacare......vote for it and pack your bags in November.......

    February 16, 2010 07:30 pm at 7:30 pm |
  24. Mike

    Push for the public option and when the so called moderate demorats are thrown out along with some of the liberal demorats the republicans can cancel nobamas health care bill and fix the health care program the way it should be fixed. AAAHHHH CHANGE IS COMING.

    February 16, 2010 07:34 pm at 7:34 pm |
  25. Total BS

    Please vote for healthcare..Our country needs it ...We put the Dems in control to get the job done !!

    February 16, 2010 07:39 pm at 7:39 pm |
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