September 10th, 2009
05:38 PM ET
14 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. Sam Sixpack

    At least we can rest assured Americans will be required to contribute all they can "afford" to the lifestyles of fat, greedy, rich insurance executives.

    September 10, 2009 05:40 pm at 5:40 pm |
  2. suresh

    Democrats just have no backbone. Pelosi should never give up on the Public Option because Republicans have made it look like a socialist program. For God's sake, it is an option and not a mandatory for anybody to enrol in it. Public option is the only way to keep the private insurance companies honest. Why are they afraid of competition? Is FEDEX and UPS afraid of US post office(a Public option)?

    Nancy Pelosi does not deserve to be the leader for Democrats. Time for a CHANGE.

    September 10, 2009 05:43 pm at 5:43 pm |
  3. Stephen Burke

    You lib kool aid drinkers kill me, the Dems booed Bush loudly and many times (as a group) during Bush's 2004 speech in Congress.I wish that more Republicans had the "bad Manners" to call obamster on his numerous lies last night. The Democrats and CNN are hypocrites as usual.

    September 10, 2009 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  4. DEBBInola

    Please dont let up Mr President .... Keep going youre almost there , and dont let them make everyone stop and start all over... They do that to end it, the only thing many of them enjoy starting are wars, hate, anger and dispair ......I thought I was lucky to have been alive during one great presidents term, Bill Clinton, but you changed that totally , now you too are yet another of what history will remember along with President Clinton , as Americas BEST PRESIDENTS who did more for our country our people and our planet they all the others combined........... Thank you very much

    September 10, 2009 05:48 pm at 5:48 pm |
  5. Four and The Door

    True health care reform would involve hospitals, clinics, physicians and other health care workers, drug companies and medical device manufacturers.

    This administration and Democrats in congress version of reform involves insurance companies. It's the same as saying you are going to make automobiles less expensive and higher performance by focusing on dealerships. Think about how stupid that is.

    September 10, 2009 05:48 pm at 5:48 pm |
  6. Norman G. Kirkendall

    I am truly saddened by the Democrats surrender to the Republicans over the no public option to get a bill passed which favors insurance companies who have run the health care industry for years at tax payer expense. Frankly I don't understand why people including Republicans who are cutting their own tails off, don't fight for a public option which is the best thing in the world for all of us. The Republicans didn't win the last election but they are certainly winning future company votes. We have a sorry bunch of leaders, mostly Republican who really don't care about the people in their districts. Shame on them.

    September 10, 2009 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  7. Observer

    If one is swayed like a dried leaf every time the light breeze trails what is the merit of such an opinion? These people can be swayed by anything. So, does it really matter to measure the correlations or is this just a feel good number to nudge many more dried out leaves? Never made sense.

    September 10, 2009 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  8. jules sand-perkins

    Pelosi is willing to negotiate in order to achieve reform?
    They must have given her shock treatments.
    Negotiation is what is needed.
    If the Democrats will drop the public option, the country can move ahead to true reform.

    September 10, 2009 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  9. Proud Member..Party of No

    Who's lying? Obama himself is on record as saying that grandma "may have to just take a pain pill rather than have the life-extending surgery that she needs". In other words, someone in the government will make the decision that grandma cannot have the surgery. Spin it any way you want, THAT is a death panel. Obama and the democrats are absolutely shameless. If their lips are moving they are lying.

    September 10, 2009 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  10. Sniffit

    No public option = no second term Obama and alot of new democrats in office. You'll be giving the GOP exactly what it's been fighting for by lying and scaring old people and angry rural morons who disagree with anything a Dem or a black man (god forbid both) has to say on what they call "principle," i.e., "that person is not from my tribe and therefore I must fight him."

    Stand up and fight and take your lumps for doing the right thing or get the F out of the way of progress.

    September 10, 2009 05:54 pm at 5:54 pm |
  11. Deuce

    it's about serving a perpose. I keep saying this... What is yours?? CNN..

    September 10, 2009 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  12. Rex Kendall

    There won't be a "public option" or anything resembling a Single-Payer plan, so there really isn't any reason now for any legislation at all. Impossible to underestimate the sheer stupidity of the American people.

    September 10, 2009 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  13. Down South

    They are compromisng. I know that you conservatives have no clue what that means. Let me explain it to you simply. It means a health care reform bill is going to pass, despite your sour grapes negativity.:)

    September 10, 2009 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  14. vic nashville , Tn

    Some don’t understand Obama

    Obama and Clintons are the nightmare for Republicans

    Democrats shouldn’t not worry for anything

    September 10, 2009 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  15. single mom

    I wasn't able to post a comment on the other board but could someone please tell 'ThinkIt' that FoxNews did broadcast the speech?
    Not that he changed my mind. The part about no illegals? Anyone paying attention to how illegal immigrants are going to be counted in the 2010 census? And those numbers WILL be used to reconfigure congressional districts and allocate federal funds. Gee, you think they won't have an amnesty in the next couple years BEFORE the Health reform kicks in?
    And the Republicans DO HAVE A HEALTH CARE Plan!! The Democrats refuse to discuss it in committees!!

    September 10, 2009 05:56 pm at 5:56 pm |
  16. J.P.

    Pass whatever you like. Doesn't matter.

    The new Republican majorities will overturn it after the 2010 midterm elections.

    Bank on it.

    September 10, 2009 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  17. ray

    this joe wilson guy is nothing more than a racists, look at this man and tell me if you dont see the word racists on his face. this man do not like brown and black skin people...............had this racists and others like him him had there ways this country would be all white.

    September 10, 2009 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  18. randy

    85% of americans love there plan, the leeches of the world want something for free. Get a job losers, and keep voting for Nobama, is he paying your gas, food, mortgage. No. However his agenda have made republicans you know the small business owners and people who work fire you. Great job for voting for this clown.

    September 10, 2009 05:59 pm at 5:59 pm |
  19. jules sand-perkins

    Remember how Benjamin Franklin brought persons with opposing views together? Why don't we all row together and achieve reform?
    If Pelosi can let the public option go, and enough other Democrats can let it go, we can row the boat to shore.

    September 10, 2009 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  20. Eugene

    And what the heck is this "softening" for? There absolutely is no way to discipline the insurance companies or hold them accountable without some reasonable competition.

    September 10, 2009 06:23 pm at 6:23 pm |
  21. Post always rejected by CNN

    Why are they going to drop the public option to please the republicans and the blue dogs posing as democrats. What is the use of having the health care package if the health insurance companies get to take over AGAIN and start charging what ever they want...this is ridiculous..

    September 10, 2009 06:24 pm at 6:24 pm |
  22. Albo58

    Oh, brother! Queen Nan and Dingy Harry don't have the votes within their own party to pass public option (because public option was always a non-starter for most Americans) so now they are willing to compromise with...the Republicans? Let's face it, their idol is willing to sign a bill that gives one aspirin to each American and just call it a victorious health care reform law! So, since they were unable to get any bill jammed through over the summer, they are now finally ready to actually debate health care and get something significant accomplished. Wow, it's about time!

    September 10, 2009 06:24 pm at 6:24 pm |
  23. Sam

    1 Hour of Obama Speech = has Fcdkeu = 100,000 Hours of Rush Limbaugh's Hate Speeches.

    Americans want Love Like in Obama's Speech.

    Americans don't want Hate Like in Rush Limbaugh's Hate Speeches.

    We Love you Obama.

    We Love you Obama.

    We Love you Obama. 🙂

    September 10, 2009 06:26 pm at 6:26 pm |
  24. Mark,B'ham,Al.

    The Congress may not have been the appropriate place to call the President on his lie, but he is expressing the skeptic attitude of a majority of Americans. After pro-illegal immigrant groups likie La-RAZA said the House Bills were good and the democrats voted down the amendment that would require proof of citizenship or being a legal immigrant to qualify for a goverment run health care program or subsidy whowould be foolish enough to belive that lawyers or Acorn will find a way for those not entitled to the program to get in it anyway. Illegal immigrants get FHA loans, small business loans, college tuition, and other social/welfare programs they are not entitled too. My son makes $18,000.00 a year and could not get my 5 year old grandson on All-Kids (S-Chip) because they live with us, so any of you lazy bums I do not fell sorry for. You can work 2 or 3 part time jobs to pay for your health care. Maybe you should give up your alcohol, drugs, and parties to pay for your own health care and anyone who thinks that taxes are not going to go up to pay for sex changes, massages, accu-puncture, and other non essential medical treatments I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you!

    September 10, 2009 06:27 pm at 6:27 pm |
  25. Ryan, Council Bluffs

    So what will a health care bill look like? Sounds pretty watered down to me. This will not please the left. If CNN Poll reasults are accurate... they should just push through their crap because CNN's poll shows its up double digits... Oh maybe CNN's poll is not accurate, up double digits by speech viewers? What 20% of Americans watched it last night. The Poll is hardly front page news

    September 10, 2009 06:29 pm at 6:29 pm |
1 2