October 25th, 2009
12:20 PM ET
12 years ago

Dem senators diverge on public option

WASHINGTON (CNN) – As Democratic leaders in Congress appear to be converging on proposals for a public health insurance option that might win passage in each chamber, the comments of two Democratic senators Sunday suggested that a long fight is likely ahead in the Senate.

Conservative Democrat Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska told CNN's John King that he has not committed to lend his vote to aid Democrats in avoiding a filibuster of health care reform legislation.

"I've made no promise," Nelson said Sunday, adding that he can't decide whether he should help stop a filibuster until he sees the substance of the Senate bill being crafted by Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid.

Nelson also said that he does not support the latest proposal that Reid is considering - a national public health insurance option that would allow states to opt out. But Nelson said he might be able to support a public option where states are allowed, instead, to opt in.

"Look, I'm a Jeffersonian Democrat," Nelson told King, "I think states can make decisions on their own about their own citizens and so I certainly would look at that."

Nelson added that he didn't think he "could make any decision about anything until [he'd] seen everything."

Liberal Democrat Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio disagreed with Nelson and said a public health insurance option was necessary in order to help deal with the power insurance companies currently wield.

Brown rejected the idea of placing a trigger on the public health insurance option which would only kick in and provide the public alternative under certain market conditions.

"The trigger says let's give the health insurance companies another two years after they've had five decades since World War II to do things right," Brown said Sunday.

"We need the public option now," Brown added, "We need it in large part because it will inject competition into places where they don't have it."

Brown said he could support a version of the public option that includes a state opt-out.

Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch came out against any form of a public health insurance option.

"You're going to have a fiasco on your hands," the Utah Republican warned referring to the prospect of a public health insurance option which could place additional financial burdens on states.

Late last week, Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid began to lean toward including a version of the public option in the Senate bill that allows states to opt-out.

On the House side, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other leading House Democrats are considering a public health insurance option that would contain costs and extend coverage because it would reimburse at the same rates as Medicare. House Democratic leaders have also expressed some openness to a version of the public option that uses negotiated reimbursement rates much like private insurance.

Filed under: Democrats • Health care • Senate
soundoff (46 Responses)
  1. js -----santee

    So is the term "Jeffersonian" Democrat the new buzz word for the the Democrats who are aligned with "the party of nothing to add; so just say NO."

    October 25, 2009 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  2. Mike in MN

    The public option is an obsession of the left. It is not needed to get everyone coverd and bring down costs. Yet the left insist on it at the expense of a possible bi-partisian solution. The only reason I can come up with is because the public option is a Trojan horse to single payer Universal health care, something the left is in love with. Barney Frank is on tape saying that he in fact views the pubic option as the path towards installing single payer Universal health care in the future. Once a public option is in place the government infrastructure for single payer will be in place. At that point the government can operate at a lose and charge public option premiums so low that private insurance can't compete. On top of that they can over regulate private insurance making it impossible to charge premiums that produce a profit and still compete with the public option. Private insurace will be forced out of business by the government and the public option will morph into single payer Universal health care. One can only hope that by that time the government will have found the will and the way to rescue Medicare from going broke. If not, single payer Universal health care will likely be just one more big government money pit like Medicare that will bankrupt our country. Either that or the government will ration health care to all of us to control costs, with the elderly and disabled being those who are most left out in the cold.

    October 25, 2009 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  3. ThinkAgain

    Hey, Democratic Senators: Time to suck it up and stand with the American people, 65% of whom want a robust public option!

    And two important, effective ways to help fund meaningful health care reform (including a robust public option and eliminating pre-existing condition exclusions) are:

    1. Eliminate the FICA tax cap on income above $90,000. This would generate a huge source of funds. (Right now, no FICA is paid on individual income above $90,000.)

    2. Change the top tax rate to what it was under Ronald Reagan: 39%. Right now, the top rate is 36%; people making higher incomes can afford to pay an additional 3%.

    Are these "taxes on the rich?" Yes, they are. And the wealthy of this country can well afford it. After all, it's the least they can do for this country that has given them the opportunity to create their wealth in

    October 25, 2009 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  4. Death Panel Sarah

    Why does such a sparsely populated state as Nebraska get to hold up legislation for the rest of the country?
    If you look at the 'red states', California has more people than they do combined.
    I think we should vote on this issue and let the majority rule(unless the 'cons want to be socialist and force their will on the majority)!!!


    October 25, 2009 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  5. Frank

    Price controls. Stop the greedy weasels from siphoning our wallets. That is all it would take and it would be easy to put into place. The government has used price controls before with great success. The cowboy capitalists hate them because they can't continue to steal from us.

    Our politicians are busy arguing along the edge of the issue: they don't dare to do anything that stops the spigot of big money into their campaign coffers. They remind me of two people arguing about whether a Chevrolet or a Ford is better in the snow – a four wheel drive is better in the snow, who cares what brand it is. But they'll argue about the brands forever. Forget the snow; that's the problem. Forget health care; that's the problem. Let's argue trip switches into universal care or state buying pools. Huh?

    These monkeys are trying to distract the American people with collateral arguments that have absolutely no bearing on the issue. What weak dishonest politicians this country has in office.

    October 25, 2009 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  6. Bren

    Thank goodness there are moderate/blue dog Dems like Senator Nelson that bring some sanity to the Democratic Party.

    However, this is also because he knows that the MAJORITY in the country do NOT want the public option (see Rasmussen polls and all other unbiased, national polls)-and I believe that he has been hearing from the MAJORITY of his constituents telling him the same thing-NO WAY on the public option.

    The majority in the country agree that some necessary changes/tweeks need to be done to our current health care system-in order to make it a more affordable, fairer system for everyone. However, what Obama and the Democrats are trying to shove down our throats, is not the answer. We do NOT need to destroy our current health care system in order to make a few changes/tweeks.

    October 25, 2009 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  7. Darth Vadik, CA

    It really is too bad that the US has had 60 years of anti-socialism rhetoric and brainwashing. Look at what the baby boomer generation and their fear has done to the country.

    You guys were handed a country that was #1 in everything, and the only thing we got from you was a country that is #1 in "National Defense" spending, which really isn't national defense but a scam to get tax payer money into the traitorous companies pocket because they decided to charge 6 dollars per can of Coke DURING A TIME OF WAR.

    Yep, just make sure you stand up for those folks who are doing that in the name of anti-Obamaniasm or whatever yo guys are calling it today.


    The poor always sacrifice, while the filthy rich are just filthy, ahh hell google Prescott Bush, to see where that former span of Satan came from.

    October 25, 2009 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  8. Beverly in NC

    What happened to my comment CNN? On this most important issue, you are closing down this article after 2 comments?

    October 25, 2009 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  9. billy123

    I seem to remember when the GOP was the majority they were screaming let the Majority vote. Now that they are not the majority that you need 60 votes for everything! Please all you need is 51 votes to pass a bill in the U.S. Senate.

    If Senator Nelson cast his vote with the GOP to fill a buster this vote I for one will ask Senator Reed to strip him of all leadership in the DEM party and strip him of any Chairman ship too.

    October 25, 2009 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  10. Where do they get this stuff

    "You're going to have a fiasco on your hands,"

    Yeah, Senator Hatch, tell that to the millions of citizens of virtually every other major industrial democracy on the planet.

    Tell that to the foreign companies who are able to sell us automobiles and airplanes without having to add the cost of their employees' health care to their prices (and then tell it to unemployed American workers in Detroit and Seattle).

    Making up fantasies like yours would be more effective if there wasn't such clear evidence to the contrary from the real world.

    October 25, 2009 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  11. Arden Muller

    Could we please start thinking of Americans for a change and get the "darn" bill passed. We have been able to figure out the only thing that our politicians are concerned about are themselves, their money and winning their next elections. You don't need anymore proof than you already have that americans want a public option and for those senators that want to delay this then I say they don't deserve to be in office anyway and their wasting time.

    October 25, 2009 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  12. Gerry

    If the oublic option is so important why not let the public buy into medicade? It is already a established medical program run by the government. Then we don't have to have the circuis that is going on in Washington right now

    October 25, 2009 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  13. cora

    PUBLIC OPTION FOR – ALL- not for certain states, that bull.

    October 25, 2009 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  14. STILL unemployed in Iowa

    And who didnt think the Democrates originally LIED like Obama and want to control your life as a DICTATOR, Dems are just like Nazi's.

    October 25, 2009 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  15. anthony

    How about let the people "opt in" if they want the public insurance? This is what the public option is designed for- it gives the public the right to opt for the public insurance. If politicians can choose for the people in their states not to participate, instead of the people making the choice themselves (which is the point of the public option), then politicians are forcing the public to choose the private option (the insurance companies).

    October 25, 2009 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  16. delia

    Comments by "Frank" are right.
    Price controls on the health insurance industries would be the quick and sensible solution – even if it is only a temporary measure until something better surfaces.
    Also, any government employee who is covered under Federal Blue Cross should be paying at least 50% of the policy cost.
    They receive enough other benefits.
    Government employees work for the masses are paid by the masses and live better than the masses. What's wrong with that picture?

    October 25, 2009 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  17. Seth

    Its like a dope addict, keep giving me the dope, at whatever cost, even of those of my parents who earned their living the hard way, and yes they have money, but I dont care I need my fix, that is how I see those wanting this reform at whatever cost.

    October 25, 2009 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  18. On the other hand...

    It's amazing to see the Federal Government getting paralyzed with the details of this while the whole time the most basic question has no answer. How can anyone stand up and say with a straight face that America can afford another $900 billion (+) program in this devastated economy and obscene levels of debt already on the books? How are the citizens so blind to even encourage these discussions? Has it become just a free-for-all I want mine now regardless of what it does to the future of America mindset? Future generations are going to despise us for what we are leaving them.

    October 25, 2009 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  19. We Won Get Over It

    I don't get it....these people in the senate were elected to serve the public not the insurance companies. Maybe all new elected congress people should take a week's course in reading and understanding the constitution. That way they will KNOW that they are public servants. They are not supposed to do what the insurance companies and big business pay them to do.

    When ever the spector of term limit is raised they scream - you have term limits vote them out. BUT that wouldn't work...it is too darn expensive to run for office and the really good people WHO WOULD do the people's business and don't have a public platform like the ones already in office, could never afford to run.

    We should be able to do what California does and put a referendum on the ballot and not have to wait for congress to do it themselves. Just like making lobbying illegal. If we could only remove those two things from influencing congress, we would have had a public option health care reform bill written, voted on and passed.

    October 25, 2009 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  20. katiec

    Nelson is out for big business, and unfortunately, he is a Democrat.
    He is also a traitor to the American people.
    Public Option is the only true plan that benefits the American people.
    No to trigger.
    No to co-ops
    No to big business
    Yes to Public Option.
    Those of you who agree go to ussenators.gov and contact, e mail, phone every senator you can, asking them to do what is right for us and our country. This is too crucial for the survial of Health Care Reform to ignore.

    October 25, 2009 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  21. Politics Suck

    I personally would like to see a public option. As I am day to day with my job as layoff's loom in the near future, I know I cannot afford a health program like COBRA with a family of four for very long should I get laid off. The Republicans and the private insurers they represent are going to fight a public option all the way. I hope the president has the gonads to not be flexible and stand firm and include a public option with the reform.

    October 25, 2009 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  22. Death Panel Sarah

    Mike in Minn....
    What do you suggest to get costs down, beg the insurance companies to please not screw us?
    That has worked so well this far!!!

    The only recourse we have is a public option!!!
    Do you, by chance, work for an insurance company?

    October 25, 2009 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  23. Death Panel Sarah

    You can't have a bi-partisan solution when one party only says 'no'!!
    Let the 'cons work with the MAJORITY, for once!!!

    October 25, 2009 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  24. Reformed Republican

    Where do you get off spouting that a "Jeffersonian Democrat"?

    That would have been a good thing in the 18th century, but not in the 21st century when big insurance and big pharma have made health care a "for profit" monopoly. Stop living in the past like the rethugs old man.

    Wash the blood of your hands and show you are a "real" American AND a democrat by voting to stop killing 122 Americans every day because they cannot get or afford health care.

    If you don't vote to stop a rethuglicon filibuster Nelson, voters in your state won't re-elect you, they will bring you up on feloney murder charges...

    October 25, 2009 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  25. mandi48

    just remember all democrat and republicans name when we will be voting in coming election, none of the who are against PUBLIC OPTION should win , because they are against 95% of working hard american people. Especjally any of those traitors -democrats and I believe that all together are 14-16 of them. We have so many young politicians, andsomehow WEdo not vote for them, because they do not have enough money or to young Look at those congressman and woman and Senat leaders. They are telling that those young politicians do not have any experience. Well, what I can see, is that all those politicians in our Governmet are screwing US with their experience to just do so!!!. It is our own problem, we are responsible for that. It is not about experieience but COMMON SENSE!!!. We are to lazy to look at real facts,we are not educating our selfs, and listening to much to adds and republicans propaganda and those 14-16 democrats who are doing disservice to USand most of their voting times, they are SUPPORTING REBUBLICANS, mR. bACHUS PROVE TO BE ONE OF THEM, AND WE ARE PAYING HIM FOR SUPPORT FOR US!!!!! NOT REPUBLICANAll those in congress and senate are taking a bug money to vote against US, and we put them were they are.Come on, listen to facts and start paying attention. Million of us-voters must support Mr.Obama again, we must support this President, as we did in last ellection. We asking Him to be tough but we are just a bunch of YOYOS!!!! HOW ANYONE OFUS CAN BE AGAINST "PUBLIC OPTION IN HEALTH CARE, ARE YOU GUYS LOOSING COMMON SENSE???

    October 25, 2009 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
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