House Leaders at Odds Over Necessity of Public Option in a Reform Bill
On the eve of President Obama's health reform address to a joint session of Congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) openly disagreed about the importance of including a public health insurance plan in the chamber's bill, the Washington Times reports (Miller, Washington Times, 9/9).
After a private meeting on health reform strategy with Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Pelosi said, "I believe the pubic option is essential to our passing this legislation out of the House," where members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus have continuously vowed to oppose any bill that does not include a robust public plan (Thrush/O'Connor, Politico, 9/9).
Hoyer told reporters on Tuesday that while he personally supports a public option, he does not believe that omitting it from the bill will necessarily doom the legislation (Bettelheim/Epstein, CQ Today, 9/8).
"I'm not one of those that says that if you don't have a public option it's not a good bill," Hoyer said (House/Condon, CongressDaily, 9/9). He said that even without a public option, health reform legislation "moves us forward, enhances very substantially accessibility, expands greatly the number of people covered by insurance and provides for very broadly supported insurance reforms" (Lochhead, San Francisco Chronicle, 9/9).
Hoyer added, "If the public option weren't in there, I would still support the bill" (Haberkorn, Washington Times, 9/8).
Shift in Blue Dog Support
In addition, Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), the leader of the Blue Dog Coalition's health care task force, on Tuesday reversed his support for a public plan option.
In a newsletter to constituents, he said, "An overwhelming number of you oppose a government-run health insurance option, and it is your feedback that has led me to oppose the public option as well" (Washington Times, 9/8).
Ross said that a public plan "is the wrong direction for health reform in this country and I will oppose it in the U.S. Congress."
Ross was the main negotiator for Blue Dogs in July when the coalition held up passage of the reform bill in the House Energy and Commerce Committee (Dennis, Roll Call, 9/8).
Trigger Option Discussed
During a television interview on Tuesday, House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said that "there are ways to get to a public option" that are "acceptable to people who don't want a public option." He suggested that introducing pilot projects or triggers, in which a public option is introduced if insurance companies fail to hold down costs, could be a step toward "a robust public option" but it "may not be robust on day one."
Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) said that he is open to the idea of a trigger, but noted, "The only way I could see it getting progressive votes is by making sure the public option is strong and goes into operation" (San Francisco Chronicle, 9/9).
Senate Negotiations Over Public Option
Following the meeting with Obama, Reid said that "We're re-energized; we're ready to do health care reform" (Politico, 9/9). "In our conversation today, we think we're up to 90% of things there are agreed upon. We have 10% that we need to work on, and we can do that," he added (CQ Today, 9/8).
Reid noted that he "will soon be getting more directly involved to work out the differences" between the Senate Finance Committee's expected legislation, which will not include a public plan, and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee's bill, which does include a public plan (Politico, 9/9).
Reid said that Senate will try to pass a public plan "or something like a public option" (Soraghan et al., The Hill, 9/8).
Reid also said that Senate Democrats "want a bipartisan bill," adding that Republicans still have a place at the negotiating table and "we're going to do everything we can do to work with them" (CQ Today, 9/8).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.