Updated: 4:28 p.m.
Four more Democratic Senators and one Independent have added their signatures to a letter urging Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to pursue reconciliation as a means to passing comprehensive health care reform.
Nine members of the Democratic Conference are now pushing Reid to embrace a 51-vote strategy to overcome a Republican filibuster of the Democrats' health care agenda. Additionally, these Members are asking that Reid embrace the public insurance option as part of a final bill — a provision was not included in the $871 billion package that cleared the chamber late last year.
Democratic Sens. Al Franken (Minn.), John Kerry (Mass.), Patrick Leahy (Vt.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) and Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) added their names to a letter originally sent to Reid on Tuesday by Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet (Colo.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Jeff Merkley (Ore.).
"Minnesotans aren't content to wait and see when it comes to fixing our broken health care system," Franken said in a prepared statement released by his office. "They're concerned about rising costs and losing coverage. A strong public option is one of the best ways to bring down costs, hold insurance companies accountable, and protect health care coverage for Minnesotans."
Senate Democratic aides have been quietly drafting a reconciliation package, which would allow the majority to pass certain aspects of the overhaul with just 51 votes. But the Senate leadership has not made a final decision on whether to move forward with this strategy.
Meanwhile, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius suggested in an interview with CNN on Tuesday that the public insurance option remains a nonstarter with the administration, given the resistance of moderate Democrats.
"We respectfully ask that you bring for a vote before the full Senate a public health insurance option under budget reconciliation rules," the Senators said in their letter.