Senate Democratic leaders are concerned about the amount of mischief their own Members could create if or when a health care reconciliation bill comes up for debate. And sources said some supporters of creating a public insurance option are privately worried that they will be asked to vote against the idea during debate on the bill, which could occur before March 26.
Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) acknowledged Wednesday that liberals may be asked to oppose any amendment, including one creating a public option, to ensure a smooth ride for the bill. We have to tell people, You just have to swallow hard and say that putting an amendment on this is either going to stop it or slow it down, and we just cant let it happen, Durbin, who supports a public option, told reporters. We have to move this forward. We know the Republicans are likely to offer a lot of amendments, and some of them may be appealing to Democrats, but we have to urge them to stick with the bill.
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), a leading centrist, suggested Democrats should be able to avoid blowing up a reconciliation package if there is ample negotiation on it before it hits the floor. But Carper appeared to warn his Democratic colleagues that any move to amend the reconciliation bill, however noble the policy aims, would only lead to chaos.
If we have an agreement with the administration and the leadership of Senate Democrats and House Democrats on what should be in the reconciliation package, Im sure I could think of plenty of ways to change it, and Im sure every one of my colleagues could as well, Carper said. But thats a slippery slope I dont think we want to get on.
Carper said this week he would likely vote against the public option if it was offered to a reconciliation bill.
For those who somehow suggest this is going to happen now, theyre just deluding people, Carper said.
But prominent Senate liberals said they are determined to put the public option question to the test when reconciliation comes to the floor.
I think we have got to do everything that we can to get a public option so that is absolutely something ... somebody can and should do, said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who caucuses with Democrats.
Sanders said liberals have not decided who would offer such an amendment. However, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) led a petition drive to get Senators to sign a letter pledging their support for it. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which has been tracking the letter signatories and Member statements, projects 41 firm votes in favor of the public option.
Sanders said he believes supporters will have the votes when the amendment comes up. I cant swear it to you, but I do think we can, Sanders said. I think that some people for whatever reason choose not to sign a letter but will vote. Yeah, I think weve got it.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.