Shrugging off twin defeats Tuesday in the Senate Finance Committee, key Democrats said they were exactly where they wanted to be in pressing for a public insurance option in the final version of a health care reform bill.
Offering a possible preview of the floor fights to come, Democrats challenged fellow Democrats and Republicans fought with Democrats over two separate public insurance option amendments filed against Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) $900 billion health care package. As expected, Baucus and Democratic Sens. Kent Conrad (N.D.) and Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) opposed both amendments.
But pointing to centrist Democratic Sen. Tom Carpers (Del.) decision to vote in favor of the amendment by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) after Carper opposed a similar proposal by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) public insurance option proponents insisted they are making headway with the skeptical moderate Democrats theyll need to win over on the Senate floor.
Today was a very good day for the public option. It was given up for dead a few weeks ago, Schumer said Tuesday, just after his amendment failed in committee 13-10. But, what we find is, every time we debate it, whether its back home or here in the Senate Finance Committee, we pick up more support.
Schumers enthusiasm belied the fact that Conrad, a long-standing opponent of the public insurance option from a conservative-leaning state, wasnt swayed. Nor was Lincoln, who may face a difficult fight for re-election in a state won by the GOP White House candidate in the past three presidential contests. Baucus also opposed both public insurance amendments.
Baucus maintained that any bill that includes the measure cannot garner 60 votes on the Senate floor, saying thats why his bill includes a proposal to create nonprofit medical cooperatives instead. But other Democrats took issue with the Finance chairman.
The public option is on the march; its on the move, said Rockefeller, chairman of the Finance Subcommittee on Health Care. I think with the time that we have before we get this to the floor, we have a very good chance of getting it passed.
As the Finance Committee opened its fifth day of working through the hundreds of amendments filed against the panels health care reform bill, Baucus noted that it was already the panels longest markup in 15 years. Absent the public insurance option proposals, the committee continued to decide most amendments along party lines.
Some GOP Senators appeared to put little stock in the Finance panels ultimate vote on the bill, noting that the Democrats have several opportunities to modify whatever emerges from the committee.
Republicans cite the merger of the Finance bill with legislation adopted by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, the floor debate, and the conference with the House as opportunities Democrats may use to slip a public option into the final package.
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