Obama Expresses Skepticism to Senators on Public Option

Posted October 23, 2009 at 9:54am

Updated: 12:22 p.m.

President Barack Obama in a meeting with Senate leaders Thursday night was cool to the idea of creating a national public insurance option that states could opt out of, but Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has not yet given up on the possibility of including it in his chamber’s health care reform bill.

Democratic sources said Reid, Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Conference Secretary Patty Murray (D-Wash.) discussed ways Obama could help them get the 60 votes necessary to beat back a certain GOP-led filibuster of the health measure, but that Obama did not appear inclined to push the public insurance option. One source described the president as “skeptical.—

The meeting also included a discussion about how Obama could assist Senate leaders in getting 60 votes for a proposal by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) to set up the public option as a fallback if private insurers cannot lower costs or increase coverage on their own.

Snowe’s support could be crucial because a few Democratic centrists have said they are unlikely to support any bill that does not have bipartisan support, and Obama signaled that he would like to get Snowe’s vote if possible, sources said.

“Olympia not only brings Olympia,— another source said. “She also brings two Democrats.—

On Thursday, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) appeared to confirm as much, saying he does believe it is necessary to create a national public option unless states say there is a need. Nelson has been working closely with Snowe — the two have met twice this week with Reid, while also convening a group of about six moderates to talk about health care reform.

However, Reid is still actively trying to see if he can secure the votes of all 60 Democrats for a public insurance option states could opt out of, sources confirmed. In their pitch to centrists, leaders have been asking if moderates, such as Nelson, would at least promise to oppose a filibuster on procedural grounds, even if they end up voting against the final bill.

Leaders are currently four to five votes short on both an opt-in and an opt-out proposal, sources said.