Fight looms over public option

A key Democrat voiced confidence on Sunday that Senate leaders will include a government-run insurance plan in the healthcare bill they bring to the full U.S. Senate for consideration — and suggested it might even pass.

Senator Chris Dodd acknowledged that there is plenty of opposition to the so-called public option from Republicans as well as fiscally conservative Democrats.

Yet noting what has happened to other embattled legislation over the years, Dodd said, “when you end up on the floor of the Senate, you find, sometimes, you get more” support than earlier anticipated.

“I haven’t given up,” he told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

The public option is favored by President Barack Obama and liberal Democrats as a way to increase competition in the health insurance market and hold down soaring costs.

But critics fear it would push private insurers out of business and represent too much government intrusion into the healthcare sector.

Sixty votes would be needed in the 100-member Senate to clear a promised Republican roadblock, and at this point it appears as if backers of a public option are far short.

Obama has set the end of the year as his goal for passage of a bill to slow increases in healthcare costs, regulate the insurance market and expand coverage to millions of uninsured Americans without increasing the budget deficit.

Dodd is involved in talks, headed by Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, to meld into one healthcare bill a pair of measures — one approved by the Senate Finance Committee the other by the Senate health committee.

The health committee bill includes a public option as part of its effort to revamp the $2.5 trillion U.S. healthcare system. But the Finance Committee rejected a public option.

Dodd said, “My hope is that when we bring these two bills together over the next number of days that we will present to the Senate an option that includes that strong public option.”

“I’m still confident when we get to the floor … that we have a good, good chance of including the public option in the bill,” he said.


Once a bill is brought to the Senate, likely within weeks, it is certain to face a stack of possible amendments. The Senate and House of Representatives must pass the same bill before Obama can sign it into law.

A New York Times/CBS poll released in September found that 65 percent of respondents favored a public option, with 26 percent opposed. This and other polls, however, have also found widespread confusion about efforts to revamp healthcare.

Obama lashed out on Saturday against “deceptive and dishonest” efforts of health insurance companies, who he said are trying to kill healthcare reform.

He also signaled support for a congressional review of the insurance industry’s exemption from federal anti-trust laws.

David Axelrod, a senior adviser to the president, said it is Congress’s call what to do about the exemption.

“Congress is — is reviewing that. He (Obama) said it’s appropriate that they review that … We’ll see what Congress does,” Axelrod said in an appearance on ABC’s “This Week.”

Axelrod said, “One of the problems we have is we have a healthcare system now that functions very well for the insurance industry, but not well for the customers.”

Republican Senator John Cornyn accused Democrats of shutting out his party from meaningful efforts to draft legislation, but expressed hope it would eventually be included.

“I think clearly we could find a way to work on this on a bipartisan basis,” Cornyn said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Democrats accuse Republicans of trying to block reform for political gain. Republicans deny that and say they favor incremental rather than sweeping changes, which they charge would essentially include a government takeover of healthcare.