October 22nd, 2009
09:25 PM ET
11 years ago

Senate Democrats look at adding public option to health care bill

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Senate Democratic leaders met Thursday night with White House officials to consider including a government-funded public health insurance option, along with a provision allowing states to opt out of it, in a health care overhaul bill.

Two senior Democratic Senate sources told CNN that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is leaning toward a public option with the state opt-out provision in the Senate health care bill that will reach the full chamber in coming weeks.

According to one source familiar with the White House meeting, the matter was discussed with President Barack Obama but no decisions were made.

Republicans and some moderate Democrats oppose a public option, threatening the chances for a bill that includes the provision to get the 60 votes necessary to overcome a Senate filibuster.

The state opt-out provision is considered a possible way to get moderate Democrats to support a bill with a public option. However, the spokesman for Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, a key moderate, said Nelson opposes the idea of a national public option with an opt-out for the states.

In addition, the idea is opposed by Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, the only Republican to support any kind of health care proposal so far. Snowe's spokesman, John Gentzel, confirmed to CNN her opposition to the modified public option.

Obama and Democratic leaders say the non-profit public option will bring competition to the health insurance industry and lower costs while expanding access to Americans currently without coverage.

Republican opponents contend a public option would drive private insurers from the market and lead to an eventual government takeover of the health care system.

Of five health care bills approved so far by House and Senate committees, four include a public option. The other bill, from the Senate Finance Committee, includes non-profit cooperatives instead of a public option and is the proposal supported by Snowe.

In recent days, two administration officials have told CNN that the prevailing White House opinion is for the Senate health care bill to include a so-called "trigger" mechanism proposed by Snowe that would bring a public option in the future if thresholds for expanding coverage and lowering costs go unmet in coming years.

The source familiar with Thursday evening's meeting said Obama "pushed for a so-called trigger, because it's the more bipartisan way to go," due to Snowe's support for the concept. A critical White House goal in passing a health care bill is the ability to call it bipartisan, so Obama officials are wary of doing anything to alienate Snowe.

Also Thursday, 36 moderate House Democrats threatened to vote against the current health care bill the chamber's leaders are drafting because they don't believe it will sufficiently reduce long-term health care costs.

In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, the fiscally conservative Democrats cited recent testimony by Congressional Budget Office Director Doug Elmendorf that indicated health care costs under the House legislation could rise after 10 years.

Elmendorf "has already indicated that the bill does nothing to rein in the costs of health care, and therefore may not be sustainable outside the 10-year budget window," the letter said.

"We will be unable to support any health care legislation that doesn't meet the president's goals of driving down and holding down the cost of health care, as determined by" the CBO, the letter concluded.

A Democratic leadership aide told CNN that final analysis from the Congressional Budget Office will be crucial to passing a bill in the House.

"If we do not get a reasonable sort of indication from CBO that we're going to bend it, that will be a problem," the aide said of lowering costs in the future.

House Democratic leaders learned earlier this week that the CBO projected their bill would cost $871 billion over 10 years and also reduce the deficit during that time. But the CBO was unable to assess what the impact would be in the next 10 years.

Moderate Democrats have asked leaders for details about the long-term costs from CBO, but no final analysis has yet been released.

Rep. John Barrow of Georgia, a leader of the fiscally conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats, initiated the letter because "the question of cost isn't one that should be swept under the rug," said Barrow's spokesperson, Jane Brodsky.

Updated: 9:25 p.m.

–CNN's Dana Bash and Deirdre Walsh contributed to this story.

Filed under: Democrats • Health care • Obama administration • Olympia Snowe • Senate
soundoff (116 Responses)
  1. Jay T.

    If any Democrat allows the Republicans to filibuster this, you will not be re-elected. Guaranteed! Have a vote!

    October 22, 2009 10:00 pm at 10:00 pm |
  2. Zach K

    I'm a Democrat, and at this point, Ben Nelson will NOT be my vote in the 2012 Democratic Primary.

    October 22, 2009 10:00 pm at 10:00 pm |
  3. Buzz

    Surprise, surprise!! So now the Senate leader is "leaning" toward the public option. What a crock. Bait and switch was the plan all along. Trot out a benign plan (Backus bill) and have the Obama media pump it up for the American people then behind closed doors add the public option and ram it through the congress. You idiot liberals are going to pay dearly in next years election. He who pays the piper (the tax payers) calls the tune!!!

    October 22, 2009 10:04 pm at 10:04 pm |
  4. Judy

    Do it! I challenge the Democrats to do what America elected them to do!

    October 22, 2009 10:06 pm at 10:06 pm |
  5. Michael

    If they don't- there will be a price to pay-ESPECIALLY AT THE POLLS!

    October 22, 2009 10:07 pm at 10:07 pm |
  6. Hawk Texas

    Why don't the republicans and the so called blue dog democrats ( who are really republicans that could not get elected as republicans ) just come out and say that they are not going to vote for any kind of health care reform peroid. the want Obama to fail. and they do not care if america goes down with him. senator demint has said as much. them and their familys have the public option health coverage but they do not want the american people to have it.

    October 22, 2009 10:07 pm at 10:07 pm |
  7. Blake from Indiana

    We need need NEED the public option!

    October 22, 2009 10:09 pm at 10:09 pm |
  8. tjaman

    Well, there's more than 50 of them. They should be able to.

    October 22, 2009 10:11 pm at 10:11 pm |
  9. Steve Copeland

    With the Democrats wanting entitlement healthcare for everyone... and Obama stating illegal immigrants would not be entitled, why do the democrats vote down any kind of proposel to validate any kind of means to verify identification? Photo ID's have never been a hurtle for honest Americans. The question that should be asked; why are the Dems so against it? I think the answer is obvious. They want the loopholes. It is another example of half truths that are running rampant.

    October 22, 2009 10:18 pm at 10:18 pm |
  10. Marcus

    Congratulations... They should always support the public period. The CBO already stated the public option that Pelosi supports would save money immediately over the next ten years while it is being paid for and implemented over the next ten years. People need help and these politicians better start looking past the checks that are coming into their campaigns, because we have to vote for them to keep getting the checks. I will not support anyone who is against the public option. So, Hagan, Moore, and Watt, the ones from NC I know, you are on notice.

    October 22, 2009 10:26 pm at 10:26 pm |
  11. MikeWall

    Considering that the majority of Americans want a public option, and the fact that the U.S. is the only major nation in the world without some type of government health care plan, the question arises regarding those who oppose a public option – WHO IN THE HELL DO THEY THINK THEY ARE? Certainly not people who are representing the interests of their consitutents! Let's get them out of office NOW!!!!!

    October 22, 2009 10:26 pm at 10:26 pm |
  12. Rob

    The weird aspect about supporters of the public option, is that they are usually the first ones to desire "choice". Where is the choice with the public option? It is the first step toward a government run single payer system, and that gives the American people no choice. Washington would decide the health care for each of us, and we would be at the mercy of corrupt politicians. Washington has mismanaged Medicare and Social Security until both are dangerously in peril of going bankrupt. The federal government. It would do the same for health care. Also, since when has the federal government run anything efficiently? I don't trust insurance companies, but I really don't trust the corrupt self serving politicians in Washington. With the private health care providers, at least I have choices. With the government, it wouid be "Take what we give you, and shut up!" I don't want to be at the mercy of a unresponsive bloated federal government.

    October 22, 2009 10:30 pm at 10:30 pm |
  13. Mark

    Reid, the one that has no chance of ever getting reelected and I wonder why

    October 22, 2009 10:33 pm at 10:33 pm |
  14. willowood

    Duh...who are these yo-yo's who are unable to understand that Medicare and Medicaid ARE already a PUBLIC OPTION... which answers the question, Is Health Care a right or a priveledge?...by the 2/3 standard it has been already been deemed a RIGHT for children and seniors. So let's not reinvent the wheel by letting those feeding at the trough try to change the landscape with lies and untruths.
    This is beyond unbelievable when you think we pay Congress to give us what we want and need. Politics has such a foul, disgusting odor attached to it. But, hey, those Insurance companies have the big bucks to buy whomever they want and still not provide a necessary service to any of us.

    October 22, 2009 10:37 pm at 10:37 pm |
  15. Todd

    Apart from specific and explicit caps on all medical services, what will encourage insurers and providers to lower costs besides a publicly funded option driving competition? Conservatives keep complaining that is tantamount to socialism. The current market forces do nothing but increase health care costs. It's painfully ignorant to lament the rising costs while in the same breath comdeming the only option within our capitalist structure that will keep said costs in check. Regardless your politial leanings, everyone agrees the current course on health care leads no where but off a cliff!

    October 22, 2009 10:38 pm at 10:38 pm |
  16. billy123

    Just think if the GOP had 60 Senators would we really have this discussion?

    Dems have some guts forget the GOP and pass the bill with the Public Option!

    October 22, 2009 10:43 pm at 10:43 pm |
  17. InsuranceCompaniesHadTheir Chance

    I cannot believe that anyone would oppose a public option. They are only protecting the Insurance companies and preserving the ungodly CEO compensations. The insurance companies had their chance – they controlled the market and now its time to give them competition. We need a public option.

    October 22, 2009 10:48 pm at 10:48 pm |
  18. Ryan

    Yeah except some of us like paying through the nose for health insurance that can deny us care at any time under any circumstance... especially when we end up laid off or have a hard time finding a new job because nobody is hiring for anything these days.

    Not that I'm one of those idiots....

    PUBLIC OPTION – YES!!!! (keyword: OPTION – to all the rednecks who can't grasp that concept.)

    October 22, 2009 10:51 pm at 10:51 pm |
  19. Why

    Why can't they get off this financial disaster waiting to happen they call public option, which is another name for the next welfare program in the country

    October 22, 2009 10:53 pm at 10:53 pm |

    without it, we're looking at a colossal giveaway to the insurance industry, and most Americans favor it

    October 22, 2009 10:54 pm at 10:54 pm |
  21. Hollis

    The final destination for passage of health care is to get the 60 votes so include the insurance exchange, Non-Profit Coopertives, and Public Option Trigger. The mass majority would be happy and you would have your 60 votes. If health care expenses are not reduced the Public Option Trigger goes into effect. Most likely that trigger will be hit some years in the future but it is a good test of the insurance exchange and Non-Profit Cooperatives for now. Then the president can sign the bill.

    If every body wants to be nasty and play hard ball go with procedure vote and pass health care with just majority vote. That means polidical war. War should be avoided at all cost because the only ones that is going to get hurt is the American People. More children, women, and the next generation will get hurt more than anyone else. Eventually there will be no money to take care of the elderly. A war could trigger a natural political stalemate death panel for the elderly.

    October 22, 2009 10:55 pm at 10:55 pm |
  22. George Guadiane - Austerlitz, NY

    Grow a spine guys
    Get us a public option for us

    October 22, 2009 10:56 pm at 10:56 pm |
  23. gail

    Please go with a strong and robust public option. Sen Snowe, pick up the phone, History is still calling.

    October 22, 2009 11:07 pm at 11:07 pm |
  24. Steve

    The only reason a politician will oppose the Pulic Option is because he or she is in the the pocket of the Health Insurance Industry. Without any real competition, the Insurance companies collude and force doctors and patients to do exactly what they want. They raise rates, deny coverage and cancel policies at will, just like the credit card, oil companies, and other giant monopolies act with impunity. How some people can not see this is beyond me. Now I hear some right wing commentators are on the side of the the bank executives who are paying themselves obsence million dollar bonuses, but are fighting against the possibility of health care for the un-insured. Are the American people this stupid???

    October 22, 2009 11:10 pm at 11:10 pm |
  25. m smith

    The democrats better get togeather on this one. The majority of the public want a public option. WE voted you in we can vote you out.

    October 22, 2009 11:39 pm at 11:39 pm |
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