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Liberals Draw Hard Line on Health Reform

Christina Izzo/Roll Call
House liberals, including Rep. Barbara Lee at the lectern, are threatening to block any health care bill that doesn’t include a government-run, public option.

“Our own leader, [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid [D-Nev.] has urged us as Democrats not to lay down those markers, and not to say it’s got to be this or that, otherwise I won’t support” a bill, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) said. “He’s urged us to keep an open mind, to let the process work, let everybody raise their concerns and provide their input. But he said: ‘Please don’t back yourself into a corner.’”

“That’s good advice for Democrats, and Republicans, in the Senate and the House,” Carper said.

For Republicans, the debate over whether to include a government-run insurance option trumps all others, even the possibility that a reform bill could exceed $1 trillion over 10 years, who would pay for it, or the role employers would play.

Democrats believe implementation of a public plan will bring fairness and affordability to the system. But Republicans argue it would undercut the private insurance market and ultimately lead to a single-payer system run by the government.

That’s, of course, something many liberals would be happy to see. They contend they’ve already compromised since most of them would prefer a single-payer, government- run universal health care system.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) warned that even if a bipartisan deal is reached in the Senate, it could die in any conference report if the House insists on a public option.

“It’s going to make it problematic for them probably to pass something that doesn’t have a public plan option included. But, I think it’s also going to be equally problematic to say that you passed anything with bipartisan support that includes it, because the Republicans’ bright red line on this is no government takeover. And, that to us is what the, quote, public-plan option — what we call the government plan — represents,” Thune said.

Meanwhile, two Senate committees continued their work Wednesday on health care bills, with the goal of merging them into a single measure that can clear the chamber by the first week of August.

Finance members were hunkered down in private, bipartisan meetings while the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee spent another day marking up its bill.

However, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who is managing the HELP panel in the absence of Chairman Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), conceded Wednesday the markup will likely extend into next month.

Finance had already postponed its markup until after the July Fourth recess, giving the two panels more pressure to complete their work, merge their bills and get Senate approval by August.

Still, Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said Wednesday that his panel is making good progress toward a compromise: “It’s a long road because health care reform is very complex.”

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