Reid Suggests Public Option Might Make It Into Senate Reform Bill
On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) indicated to President Obama and other Senate Democrats that he is strongly considering adding to his chamber's merged health reform legislation a public plan that would allow states to choose whether they participate, the Washington Post reports (Montgomery/Murray, Washington Post, 10/23).
Reid signaled his willingness to include such a plan during a meeting with Obama at the White House, which included Sens. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and senior Senate Democratic aides (Budoff Brown, Politico, 10/22).
Reid has been working with other Senate Democratic leaders and several top White House officials to merge the chamber's two competing health reform bills (S 1796, S 1679) from the Senate Finance Committee and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, respectively (Pierce, Roll Call, 10/22).
The more liberal HELP Committee bill would enact a public plan, while the Finance Committee bill would replace a public plan with a network of not-for-profit health insurance cooperatives.
The state "opt-out" version of the public plan is one of several variations that moderate Democrats may support, particularly those who oppose a fully government-run public plan that most liberal Democrats favor and Republicans oppose (Politico, 10/22).
A Democratic aide present at the meeting said that Reid did not ask Obama to endorse the proposal.
A White House official said that Obama inquired about the proposal but remained noncommittal by the end of the meeting (Pear/Herszenhorn, New York Times, 10/23).
Politico reports that Obama instead indicated that he prefers a "trigger" option, a proposal introduced by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), which would create a public plan in states if private insurers fail to offer affordable coverage (Politico, 10/22).
Reid Confident of Votes for Procedural Motion but Moderates Express Caution
During the meeting, Reid expressed confidence that he would have the 60 votes he needs to prevent a Republican-led filibuster of the final bill, ABC News' "The Note" reports.
Once a filibuster is overcome, Reid would need only 51 votes to pass the bill ("The Note," ABC News, 10/22).
According to Roll Call, Democratic leaders in the Senate were asking undecided Democrats to vote to overcome a Republican filibuster, even if they oppose the overall legislation. However, some moderates expressed caution about moving forward on a bill they might not support.
Roll Call reports that a group of between five and six centrist senators, led by Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Snowe, has been meeting to discuss concerns with the procedural vote process.
According to Roll Call, Snowe and Nelson have declined to reveal the members of the group, but a list of attendees of a meeting this week included Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.).
Nelson said he has significant concerns about Reid's proposal for an "opt-out" public plan. "The question is how difficult will it be for states to opt out ... and will some states opt out?"
Meanwhile, Snowe "made clear" that she would not support the "opt out" plan, according to Roll Call. She said, "It's a public option so I would be opposed," adding, "That's my position and has been my position." Snowe has indicated she will support a public option only if it comes with a trigger (Roll Call, 10/22).
Baucus Says Bill Will Not Be Ready This Weekend; Moderates Ask To Slow Down
On Thursday, Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said that it is unlikely that the Senate's final health reform bill, which he is working on with the negotiating team led by Reid, would be ready by this weekend, CQ HealthBeat reports. Â He noted that the Congressional Budget Office would need enough time to deliver a cost analysis of the bill before it can proceed to the Senate floor for further debate and votes (Reichard, CQ HealthBeat, 10/22).
In addition, The Hill reports that "it will be extremely difficult" for the Senate to approve the bill by Thanksgiving -- which top Obama administration officials, including Vice President Biden, have targeted -- because lawmakers expect the floor debate to take at least one month after the bill has been released.
According to The Hill, several scheduled congressional holidays and a week-long recess for Thanksgiving also would put the process of reconciling the House and Senate bills "squarely in December."Meanwhile, Reid is under growing pressure from moderate Senate Democrats and Republicans to slow down the progress of the reform bill and to ensure that they have adequate time to review CBO's score report (Bolton, The Hill, 10/22). 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.