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. m smith

    Health care now!!!

    February 16, 2010 07:40 pm at 7:40 pm |
  2. Go ahead, Dems . . .

    . . . and watch a revolution like none other you've ever seen!

    February 16, 2010 07:41 pm at 7:41 pm |
  3. found work without help of stimulus or obama

    more CHEATING Dem's thats why a senator left, Cheats and Partisinship, all demoncratic lies and misleadership

    February 16, 2010 07:43 pm at 7:43 pm |
  4. Becky

    More chronic democratic waste(86% of Americans )do not want this.The Dems is the very reason Bush enacted NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND,they are so behind in education(maybe missed the bus total).The party of NO. NO jobs NO hope NO plan NO improvement NO change-just the party of NOTHING.

    February 16, 2010 07:49 pm at 7:49 pm |
  5. Fran Lewis

    Is there not one sole in Washington who realizes that this country is on the verge of bankruptcy? Look at Medicare and Medicaid and how they have grown. STOP spending what we don't have. Your party affiliation has nothing to do with it. We are broke.

    February 16, 2010 07:49 pm at 7:49 pm |
  6. stevegee

    These Democrats have lost their minds! The American People DO NOT WANT THE PUBLIC OPTION. What part of NO don't they understand?

    February 16, 2010 07:51 pm at 7:51 pm |
  7. m smith

    well im sure this meeting will help people see what the party of No is all about. I love these televised meeting . People can see the president who seems to know what he is talking about up against a bunch of boob who just show boat and say no to everything. Maybe these televised meeting will force them to co operate a little

    February 16, 2010 07:53 pm at 7:53 pm |
  8. Candi

    Push what America does not want and ignore what they do want.Took a year to realize they need jobs while you wasted a year on health care.Only Democrats could make such a mess.1 and done.

    February 16, 2010 07:53 pm at 7:53 pm |
  9. Jim

    All of the Republican proposals on health do little or nothing to actually solve the problems of health care. They are just little bones to throw out so they can say they have ideas. Their only idea is to stop President Obama's legislative agenda even when it coincides with theirs. They would rather see our country crash so they can get back into power than to let Obama succeed and lessen their chances for getting elected. I hope the voters hold them accountable..

    February 16, 2010 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
  10. Jake

    Just Great,health care and NO jobs,will the Dems ever wake up to what America needs?Can the Dems not read the polls??No wonder Mass went Republican,finally someone that listens.

    February 16, 2010 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
  11. Cayce

    Did not pass this for a year while the Dems had a majority,how do they think they can do something now.No wonder the Dems are jumping ship,can not function within their own party.Send Reid /Pelosi home ,could not be any worst.

    February 16, 2010 07:58 pm at 7:58 pm |
  12. Harry

    Just more Democratic waste ,health care could have already been adjusted by now if the Dems had done something when they had the majority.Now they are done,no hope for change.

    February 16, 2010 08:01 pm at 8:01 pm |
  13. I voted for Obama and proud of it in Oregon

    this is great we want a public option . so lets stand with the president and everyone needs to call or write or email congress and the senate . and let them know we want a public health plan :)
    make it happen number one :)

    February 16, 2010 08:03 pm at 8:03 pm |
  14. Margeret

    Just wonderful,the Dems wake up and now decide to do something after Scott Brown woke them up.Could have done something with the majority,but waited too late,now with the Republicans,this bill is over.

    February 16, 2010 08:05 pm at 8:05 pm |
  15. Henry Miller, Libertarian, Cary, NC

    Don't these idiot Dems get it that 61% of voters nationwide want Congress to drop the health care plan?

    This kind of Nanny State, we-know-better-than-you-dumb-taxpayers, attitude is one of the major factors in making 75% of Americans angry at government.

    February 16, 2010 08:05 pm at 8:05 pm |
  16. Greg, MN

    This is a non starter. The public option is political suicide. The left is the only group pushing it, and they aren't going to get antbody reelected on their own. This is just pandering or political suicide for dems.

    February 16, 2010 08:15 pm at 8:15 pm |
  17. Right Leaning Independent

    What part of WE DO NOT WANT A PUBLIC OPTION do you not understand??? Public option is popular with Liberals only and polls show there are not many of them in the US!! Being loud mouths does not mean that liberals are a large segment of the population... Heres to hoping that these 4 senators are up for re-election and get a swift kick in the tail..

    February 16, 2010 08:18 pm at 8:18 pm |
  18. Steve (the real one)

    She must not like being a Senator! Do it at you political peril DEMS!!!

    February 16, 2010 08:24 pm at 8:24 pm |
  19. No More Incumbents

    What they need to pay more attention to is public opinion, not option.

    February 16, 2010 08:27 pm at 8:27 pm |
  20. Jones in CO

    When is common sense going to come into the conversation? A public option will not lower the cost of health care and will add to our debt.

    Three things;
    Tort Reform
    Cost Transparency
    National Wellness Program

    We do not need Health Care Reform, we need Health Care Financing Reform.

    It is not as complicated as they would like us to think.

    February 16, 2010 08:35 pm at 8:35 pm |
  21. GuyInVA

    "We couldn't jam this crap sandwich of a health care bill down the public's throat, so it's time to insert the feeding tube."

    February 16, 2010 08:38 pm at 8:38 pm |
  22. Donkey Party

    First CNN, could you have found a more unflattering photo of Senator Gillibrand? Second, anyone that doesn't see the necessity of a public option to counter arbitrary 39% increases to annual health insurance premiums by the Insurance Companies, should suffer the inevitable bankruptcy to follow from said crushing premiums.

    February 16, 2010 08:43 pm at 8:43 pm |
  23. Bob, SC

    FINALLY, someone with the guts to go for it! Let's do it! Americans WANT health care reform. Don't let the right wing nuts intimidate you.

    February 16, 2010 08:55 pm at 8:55 pm |
  24. Center left-out

    It's about time. The Democrats show some backbone. If you have to get voted out, you might as well help as many people as you can.

    February 16, 2010 08:58 pm at 8:58 pm |
  25. Perusing-through

    DEMOCRATS SEE WRITING ON WALL

    Independents voting this November-2010 will NOT distinguish Moderate Democrats from Liberal Democrats. Independents will be voting out a Democratic majority that HAS NOT EXECUTE their wishes:
    (1.) – Healthcare Reform (cost of Insurance & accessibility)
    (2.) – Jobs in America
    (3.) – Ending war in Afghanistan
    (4.) – Ending war in Iraq
    (5.) – Energy independence

    February 16, 2010 09:14 pm at 9:14 pm |
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