As the Senate gears up for the next phase of the health care debate, 30 Democratic Senators on Thursday sent a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) demanding that the final bill include a public insurance option.Whether to include a robust, Medicare-like public insurance option will be among the several crucial decisions that Reid and the White House will have to make when negotiations to merge two competing health care reform bills get under way next week. Democratic leaders are attempting to bring to the floor a bill that can satisfy most, if not all, of the 60 Senators in the majority.Support for the public option runs deep in the Senate, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who circulated the letter, said in a prepared statement.The Democratic Conference remains split over the public insurance option, although that division might be softening. Liberals, who tend to support the public option, outnumber moderates, who either oppose the proposal or are skittish given public resistance back home.We have spent the better part of this year fighting for health reform that would provide insurance access and continuity to every American in a fiscally responsible manner, the 30 Democratic Senators wrote in the Oct. 8 letter. We are concerned that absent a competitive and continuous public insurance option health reform legislation will not produce nationwide access and ongoing cost containment. For that reason, we are asking for your leadership on ensuring that the merged health reform bill contains a public insurance option.Republicans are nearly unanimously opposed to the public insurance option and would probably vote against any health care reform bill that includes the measure.Senators signing the pro-public option letter included: Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Roland Burris (D-Ill.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Ted Kaufman (D-Del.), Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), John Kerry (D-Mass.), Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) and Paul Kirk (D-Mass.).
Following the speeches from elected officials, the crowd stands at long tables as they dig into BBQ, brunswick stew, cadillac rice at the Law Enforcement Cookout at Wayne Dasher's pond house in Glennville, Ga., on Thursday, April 17, 2014.