December 8th, 2009
12:36 PM ET
7 years ago

Senate Democrats continue talks on health care compromise

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="At the request of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a group of ten moderate and liberal Senate Democrats are meeting to try to hash out their differences on health care reform."]
Washington (CNN) - Liberal and moderate Senate Democrats said Tuesday they were continuing negotiations on a package of alternatives to a government-run public health insurance option in the chamber's sweeping health care bill.

The negotiating senators said the ideas under discussion would replace the controversial public option in a compromise intended to win the support of the chamber's entire Democratic caucus.

Senate Republicans unanimously oppose the health care bill so far, and it will require support from all 60 members of the Democratic caucus for it to pass.

"I think we know where the fault lines are," said Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, one of the liberals in the talks. "Still, at this point, but they're not necessarily easy ones to overcome. Things have been narrowed, but there are still very significant issues."

Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, who is leading the negotiations, said the talks would continue throughout Tuesday in the face of remaining "bumps in the road."

"There are many bumps in the road because everyone's giving," Schumer said. "Again, the overall framework, the way I put it is: some in our caucus want more government involvement, some in our caucus want less government involvement. The question is, how do you thread that needle?"

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who asked for the talks involving five liberal and five moderate Senate Democrats to work out differences on key health care issues, wanted an agreement by Tuesday. Participants said they were working to meet that deadline, but offered no promises.

"It may be a triumph of hope over experience, but I'm a hopeful person," said Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, one of the moderates involved in the talks.

On Monday, Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin conceded that any resulting compromise was unlikely to make anyone happy.

"Is it something that I like? No," said Harkin, a liberal. "It isn't something moderates or conservatives like either. It's one of those things in the middle that doesn't make everyone happy."

Asked if he could live with it, Harkin said: "It's something I'm probably going to have to live with."

An alternative to the public option strongly opposed by some moderate Democrats is the main focus of the talks that began last week.

According to an aide to one of the senators involved in the talks, one provision under discussion would have private insurers seek approval from the government's Office of Personnel Management to provide coverage for people in state insurance exchanges being created by the bill.

Currently, private insurers must get such approval to offer coverage in the federal health insurance program for government workers.

By participating in the exchanges, the private insurers would limit their profits, just as they do for taking part in the federal workers' plan, according to the senator's aide. The fee-for-service plans for federal workers can earn private insurers a service charge of up to 1 percent, with the average charge being about 0.75 percent.

The senator's aide said the goal is to create low-profit or non-profit competition for private insurers that public option supporters contend is vital for real health insurance reform.

Such an alternative to the public option would avoid the government-funded or government-run label opposed by moderate Democrats, while providing liberal Democrats the lower-priced competition they seek.

Meanwhile, some of the senators in the talks said another idea is to allow Americans to buy into Medicare starting at age 55. Currently, Medicare coverage for senior citizens begins at age 65, with some exceptions.

The idea appeals to liberal Democrats seeking to expand health coverage to more Americans, and could offset their opposition to a bill that lacks a full public option as originally proposed.

However, issues of when to implement the lower age for Medicare eligibility and how to pay for it were still being worked out, according to sources close to the talks.

Other ideas in the package under discussion include expanding the Medicaid program more than currently called for in the bill, and expanding a proposal in the bill that gives money to states to allow them to cover
low-income people through existing programs instead of Medicaid, the senator's aide said.

Senators taking part in the talks include Schumer and liberals Feingold, Harkin, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, along with moderates Carper, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas.

The Democratic caucus contains 60 seats in the 100-member chamber, which is the minimum number needed to overcome a filibuster. If any Democratic caucus members balk at the public option, the party would need some Republicans to back the bill in order for it to pass.

–CNN's Ted Barrett contributed to this story.

Filed under: Democrats • Health care • Senate
soundoff (48 Responses)
  1. Mike1952

    I continue to be confused by the accusations of leftist's who proclaim the republicans to be the problem for this healthcare debacle. The democrats are the folks holding this up, not republicans. I'm not a republican but as a bystander this one still confuses me.

    December 8, 2009 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  2. GI Joe

    My family is not catholic. How can one wealthy man in Rome, Italy dictate to ALL citizens of the US?

    Keep the catholics out of my personal life - it's bad enough that the majority of our Supreme court are catholics.

    Keep the Jewelry and the wealth, Pope - let the little people starve while you beg for your 10% of all.

    December 8, 2009 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  3. Ohio dude

    Harry Reid needs to go home and sit on a rock !!

    December 8, 2009 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  4. Jane/Seattle

    Compromise is the smokescreen to avoid reform. This is no compromise! This is a set-up to keep deceiving the public and allow profiteers to continue this rape and robbery of We The People and OUR hard earned money! That we don't get much in earnings and then to be forced to pay for the exploits of the Rich is astoundingly Immoral! When will the tea party folks realize that they are getting manipulated by these deceptive hacks for this capitalistic system to all of our detriment? Now, I bet they'll set income thresholds too low for the working poor to qualify for much. Then we'll get "fined" when we must choose between car insurance or healthcare! Just Watch!

    December 8, 2009 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  5. Marion/Alabama

    And there is the problem,the Democrats created this bill behind closed doors with out allowing the Republicans a chance to offer or suggest any ideas,so why would the Republicans want to vote for a bill when they were completely shut out of the process? Dingy Harry really gets riled if he does not get his way,maybe we should let him take his ball and go home.

    December 8, 2009 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  6. Rehan

    I am proud of you Harry Reid. I was NOT happy that you were debating the amendments on healthcare piece by piece because that would take eternity to get it passed. What I am proud of you Harry Reid is you took the responsible step in contacting President Obama to help you get the bill across the finish line. I think Ron Wyden should be Harry Reid's head man; Ron Wyden is well determined and can speak strong which can help aide Harry Reid's work against insurance lobbyists and Republicans.

    Harry Reid, let's get this bill moved ahead soon like this week. I'm good for the government-run public option with states rights to opt. out or opt in. I think the senate room should have 65 or more Democrat senators because NOT 1 single Repblican want to support the bill; NOT 1 single Republican Senator even cares about the American people. The only good Repubican Governer that cares for American people and wants the American people to have highest quality of healthcare coverage and service is Arnold Schwarzzaneggar and if Arnold could have run for another term I would have voted for him.

    December 8, 2009 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  7. Debbie from VA

    I am appalled at the attacks on Michael Steele in the previous article. Those comments are really hateful and demeaning. How can you libs look in the mirror and support Reid's devisive behavior? I want my congressmen and senators to debate the issues fairly without resorting to school yard name calling or pulling the race card and unfortunately my senators go right along in lock step with the loony minority far left wing democratic party. The Republicans are not stopping you–you have the majority. Remember you keep telling us you won.

    December 8, 2009 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  8. Jay

    Please get this done. Tell the insurance companies that they can't ride peoples misfortunes to pad the bank accounts of the lucky few executives that employ them.

    December 8, 2009 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  9. GOP Orange Curtain, CA

    Expanding Medicare to let people start coverage at age 55 is a solid idea. I felt all along that there is no need to reinvent the wheel and just expand what already is in place. Otherwise the Public Option is so watered down to appease the lobbyist sell-outs, it is useless.

    December 8, 2009 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  10. Jenn, Philadelphia

    It would probably be easier to find more people willing to compromise if he didn't insult the entire Republican party?

    December 8, 2009 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  11. George Guadiane - Austerlitz, NY

    Balk if you must, but make the deal.
    If you don't, you will be voted out (if I have anything to say about it).

    December 8, 2009 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  12. Silence Dogoode

    No compromise. no health plan.

    December 8, 2009 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  13. D. Tree

    At least somebody in Congress is working for the wages we the taxpayers pay them!! Unlike the Republicans, who do everything to obstruct reform while living off the government cheese!!

    December 8, 2009 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  14. victim of democrat hypocrisy

    "Hey-Hey. Ho-Ho. Harry Reid has got to go!"

    December 8, 2009 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  15. New Father

    "unlikely to make anyone happy" with an approval rating that make W look good it is amazing they set their goal so High. I for one am looking foward to lowering my standard of living and making sure my son has a slim chance of living the American Dream.

    December 8, 2009 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  16. Michael-SC

    Looking at the comedy-club called the Senate, I come to the conclusion, that the US is not a democracy at all.
    Switzerland is but not the US.
    Here the minority can basically block everything unless 1 party has 60+ votes.
    In Switzerland, they ask the people living in Switzerland and these people decide, because they are the ones affected by the laws and they pay the taxes.
    Here the people pay taxes while big business pays the senate and lobbyists.
    Again, USA is not a democracy but an example of idiots who only care about their own wealth, running this country into the ground.
    Where is the American Wilhelm Tell?
    This keeps up, China will soon rule

    December 8, 2009 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  17. mjm

    Ask this clown which party went to war to free the slaves. Here's a hint, it was the Republicans and Lincoln, not the Democrats.

    Ask this clown which Senator led the filibuster against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Ask Byrd. He was there...leading the charge against Civil rights.

    December 8, 2009 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  18. Terise NY

    Stand Strong Mr. Reid they opposed everything. As soon as you see GOP member on new NO NO NO NO or I disagree, I disagree, I disgree. What did they do with all the right answers for eight years lock them up in a VAULT!

    PLEASE... Mr Ried stay Strong

    December 8, 2009 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  19. Enough

    This weasels days are numbered and he knows it. Reid will NOT win another election, Nevadans aren't that dumb.

    December 8, 2009 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  20. Julia - Native American from Idaho

    Harry should not apologize to the immoral republicans. How many people are dead because they had no health care? I joined NOW years ago, and trust me on this one, they keep saying no, no no, and women were paid less, less, less. That didn't kill us but like the slave holders who killed innoncent people, people are dying because of the immoral practice of not providing health care to the sick in this country. Shame on you Republicans and may God have mercy on your souls.

    December 8, 2009 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  21. Hendrik

    The only way that Democrats can do this is by getting together and to do this for the American people. Please, please, please, please put aside your self interest and look at the interest of the regular people.

    Please for once be like Republican and walk in lockstep. I know we are a big tent but we are all in that one tent.

    This is the most critical issue of our lifetime.

    December 8, 2009 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  22. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Mr. Reid assert your position and round up these folks and get them to WORK on a concensus. Enough foot shuffling has been done and time wasted to last us a lifetime. They're going to find themselves out of work pretty soon without having been a part of one of the biggest reforms in our country's recent history.

    December 8, 2009 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  23. mc16

    The Democrats focus way too much on framing their legislation to what the polls are saying, and not enough on doing the right thing and educating the public about it. Public opinion is molded by leadership- And leadership is what wins elections.

    December 8, 2009 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
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