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Pelosi: New Flexibility for House on Public Option

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Friday that new momentum behind a public insurance option in the Senate is giving House Democrats more flexibility in structuring their version of the proposal.

“The atmosphere has changed,” Pelosi said at a news conference. “When we were dealing with the idea that the Senate would have nothing, it was really important to go in again with the most muscle for the middle class with a robust public option.”

Pelosi’s remarks came as her staff pushed back on Friday reports that she has decided to ditch a public insurance option pegged to Medicare rates — the approach preferred by liberals — after a three-day whip effort revealed it lacks the necessary support. Pelosi said no decision has been made on the issue, even as she made the case that her focus is on getting some form of the public option — whether pegged to Medicare or negotiated with providers — out of conference negotiations with the Senate. “This is about the endgame now,” she said.

Pelosi for weeks has made clear she prefers tying the public option to Medicare, since it would save an estimated $85 billion more than a plan with negotiated rates. But she said Friday “there’s no philosophical difference between the robust public option and negotiated rates. It's just a difference in money.”

Democratic leadership huddled Friday morning, then gathered their colleagues for another whip count on the public insurance option. In that meeting, leaders methodically went through their rosters, putting those in attendance on record about how they would vote if a bill including a plan pegged to Medicare hit the floor. The count was inconclusive, however, since a sizable chunk of the Caucus was absent.

“There’s no rush to bring this to the floor until we have the votes we need,” Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) said afterward. “And the Speaker is very, very patient.”

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