September 10th, 2009
05:38 PM ET
13 years ago

Democratic leaders in Congress soften on public option

WASHINGTON (CNN) - The Democratic leaders of the House and Senate on Thursday signaled their willingness to drop a government run public health insurance option from a final health-care bill.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in comments at separate news conferences, said they would support any provision that increases competition and accessibility for health insurance –whether or not it is the public option favored by most Democrats.

They spoke the day after President Barack Obama called the public option a preferred but non-essential element of overhauling the nation's ailing health-care system. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Thursday that the president's speech the night before to a joint session of Congress "reiterated the public option is not the be-all, end-all in health-care reform."

Pelosi, who said as recently as Tuesday that a public option was essential for passing a health-care bill in the House, on Thursday used language on the issue similar to Obama's speech.

"This is about a goal. It's not about provisions," Pelosi said, adding that as long as legislation meets goals of "affordability and accessibility and quality … then we will go forward with that bill."

She said she still thinks a public option is the best way to achieve those goals, but when asked if inclusion of a public option was a non-negotiable demand - as her previous statements had indicated - Pelosi ruled out any non-negotiable positions.

Reid was asked about a Senate proposal that calls for non-profit health insurance cooperatives instead of a public option.

"The purpose of a public option is this: to create competition, which is so important, and create quality health care," he said. "… .So if we can come up with a concept of a cooperative that does just that - that is, it makes more competition and it makes the insurance companies honest - yes, I think that would … fill the bill."

The non-profit public option has become the focal point of the health-care debate.

Republicans are unanimous in opposing a public option, calling it an unfair competitor that would drive private insurers from the market and lead to a government takeover of health insurance. Democrats reject that claim as a false allegation intended to scare people.

However, some moderate Democrats also reject or question a public option as too expensive and too much government intrusion in health care. At the same time, liberal Democrats insist on a public option as necessary to achieve true reform of the health insurance industry.

In his speech to Congress, Obama invited alternatives that fulfill his requirement that health-care legislation must increase competition for insurance coverage to lower costs and expand accessibility.

Democratic proposals passed by three House committees and one Senate committee include a public option, but a compromise bill being negotiated by six members of the Senate Finance Committee - three Democrats and three Republicans - has dropped the provision.

In addition, the White House has been talking to moderate Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, one of the Finance Committee negotiators, about her idea for a trigger mechanism that would bring a public option in the future if health-care legislation fails to meet thresholds for expanding coverage and reducing costs, Snowe confirmed to CNN on Wednesday.

Moderate Democrats who are uneasy with a public option, such as Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, have said they could support a trigger mechanism. Such support could gain a health-care bill the 60 Senate votes necessary to overcome any filibuster attempt by Republicans.

"Obviously, there are details we haven't seen yet and those will be very important," Nelson said after Obama's speech. "It's not clear if public option is still alive and whether it will be upfront or in the back with a trigger or not in the plan at all."

–CNN's Dana Bash contributed to this story.

Filed under: Congress • Democrats • Health care
soundoff (36 Responses)
  1. James Everette

    No more debate – Van Jones, etc. by by NOBAMA and what is really frightning is that you so called informed supporters of NOBAMA are in big trouble. If you think the American people are going to plowed over like an old corn field, I'd suggest running for cover. The clock is ticking and your subversion of the Constitutional process i.e., Czars, NEA scandal, contract law violations, Acorn and on and on will not be forgotten. We have finally rooted out the face of the enemy and it is you. After 40 years of treason from, Vietnam, Nuclear freeze movement, Reagan,, Grenada and every other event where you chose the side of the enemy your acountability for these crimes will come out and like the cockaroaches that you are you will forever be thrown to the disgrace of American History. Here we come.
    Phoenix AZ

    September 10, 2009 06:30 pm at 6:30 pm |
  2. LacrosseMom

    Once again here is the list of programs the GOP were against.........

    Social Security
    Unemployment benefits
    COBRA (insurance the unemployed can buy)
    Minimum Wage
    The Voting Rights Act

    The GOP claimed the Social Security would make our country a socialist country......... sound familiar?

    Do you notice that the GOP has a long history of lies and fear-mongering?

    That's all they have. No solutions......... No new ideas....... just more fear and lies!

    September 10, 2009 06:32 pm at 6:32 pm |
  3. Video Guy

    ND Blue Cross Blue Shield execs profited from bogus bonuses

    Nearly $15 million in employee bonuses that were almost assured regardless of performance.

    Sales reward trips to posh resorts totaling $1.2 million.

    A $3.5 million investment in a murky hotel partnership lacking audited financial statements.

    All this and much more during just the past five years are among almost half a billion dollars in expenses detailed in a report by state insurance examiners who probed spending practices by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota.

    The Forum obtained the 101-page report late last week and studied it in detail over the long holiday weekend.

    Insurance Commissioner Adam Hamm ordered the “target examination” last March after news reports of a $238,511 reward trip to a Grand Caymans resort for Blue Cross Blue Shield sales leaders sparked public outrage in a time of belt-tightening by most.

    September 10, 2009 06:32 pm at 6:32 pm |
  4. Mike in MN

    If Obama and Pelosi and the liberal left do give up on the public option it won't be because they gave into the Republicans.
    It will be becasue they gave into the Blue Dog Democrats.
    If the Blue Dogs were willing to vote for a bill that had the public option, the Republicans would not have the votes to stop it. The Republicans have zero power right now, they can only pee in the wind.
    The Blue Dogs are the ones that have the power. They just might save this country from the liberal looney toons yet.

    September 10, 2009 06:33 pm at 6:33 pm |
  5. Thomas

    The actions of the characters on the right side of the chamber reminded me of the brawls in the Korean legislature. It is has been clear to me that the Republicans would go to great length to vengeance their humiliating defeat in the election, demonstrate their hatred of Obama and obstruct any and all programs of the democratic administration even if their posturing extends and magnifies the misery and suffering of the sick, poor and elderly who lack the generous benefits of health insurance that we, the taxpayers provide to the members of Congress.
    By the way, the apology of that shameless loudmouth is hypocritical, he planned that all along.

    September 10, 2009 06:37 pm at 6:37 pm |
  6. victim of republican greed

    If the republicans don't get off their butts and get involved, the insanity if the insurance companies will make us a third world country.

    Stop the lies, get to work you right wing nut jobs.

    September 10, 2009 06:37 pm at 6:37 pm |
  7. tonyt

    The GOP will Always Be 98.9 % White.
    What A Hateful, Mean And Fearful bunch Of Americans!

    September 10, 2009 06:40 pm at 6:40 pm |
  8. kas

    Lunatics all of them.
    I just logged on and sent money to support Joe Wilson's campaign.
    Only one who makes any sense.

    September 10, 2009 06:41 pm at 6:41 pm |
  9. victim of republican greed

    Bush lied about WMDs, Iraq's involvement in 9-11, and mission accomplished. I cannot recall any member of congress calling him a liar when he addressed joint session. Here Obama tells the truth about insurance for illegals and the moron Wilson yells out like an uneducated thug.

    September 10, 2009 06:41 pm at 6:41 pm |
  10. Joyce

    It is good that Pelosi (as well as other democrat) is willing to, if we could only convince a Republican to negotiate! I have always been an independent but am questioning if that is a wise decision. Republicans seem inclined to take a position on an issue and refuse to discuss if it is in the best interest of the United States.

    September 10, 2009 06:47 pm at 6:47 pm |
  11. Priscilla

    Most Republicans can't empathize with the American people, that is, Middle America. They are rich, greedy and self-absorbed. Every American has the right to a public option and freedom of choice in their selection of their health insurance. The only way they can save themselves is to vote "yes" for a public option. This will be a start to their redemption. They have sunk pretty low!

    September 10, 2009 06:47 pm at 6:47 pm |
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