The Senate has long been seen as opposed to the federal government selling health insurance in competition with private industry, but now senior Senate Democrats and White House officials are strongly considering including such a measure in health care overhaul legislation, officials say.
The provision would permit individual states to drop out of the system, a design that could make it more palatable to moderates who have opposed the "public option."
Liberals in Congress view a public option as an essential ingredient to overhaul the nation's health care system, and President Barack Obama has said frequently he favors it. But he has also made clear it is not essential to the legislation he seeks, a gesture to Democratic moderates who have opposed it.
Sens. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said in separate interviews they had been told the plan was drawing interest in private negotiations led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who is merging health bills passed by two separate committees into a final package to bring to the floor.
The Democrats' control of a hefty majority in the Senate — plus the House — would suggest that President Barack Obama is within reach of overhauling the nation's health care system this fall.
But the numbers mask a more complicated reality: Obama and Democratic leaders have modest leverage over several pivotal Senate Democrats who are more concerned about their next election or feel they have little to lose by opposing their party's hierarchy.
Top Senate Democrats intend to try to strip the health insurance industry of its exemption from federal antitrust laws, according to congressional officials, the latest evidence of a deepening struggle over President Barack Obama's effort to overhaul the health care industry.
If enacted, the switch would mean greater federal regulation for an industry that recently has stepped up its criticism of portions of a health care bill moving toward the Senate floor.
House leaders have cut the cost of their health-care overhaul to around $871 billion over the next decade, Democratic sources said Tuesday night, and were working to line up votes for the package with the aim of bringing it before the full House early next month.
Bank overdraft fees would be sharply curtailed under a bill introduced in the U.S. Senate on Monday, adding to a raft of regulatory challenges for banks.
The legislation offered by Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd and five other Democratic senators would curb fees that some banks are already backing away from.
Under the Dodd bill, banks could not slap overdraft fees on cash-machine and debit-card transactions unless customers have specifically opted in to an overdraft protection program.
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.
For Democrats determined to get a health care bill, Sen. Roland Burris is like the house guest who couldn't be refused, won't soon be leaving and poses a plausible threat of ruining holiday dinner.
Suddenly, he can no longer be ignored.
The Illinois Democrat, appointed by disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, says he'll only vote for a bill to provide health care to millions more Americans as long as it allows the government to sell insurance in competition with private insurers.
And he says he won't compromise.
"I would not support a bill that does not have a public option," Burris, 72, said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. "That position will not change."
Top Senators working with the White House to merge rival health care bills reported no breakthroughs after a first day of talks but promised that "failure is not an option."
The congressional front of US President Barack Obama's historic fight to remake health care has moved behind closed doors as his Democratic allies seek a consensus bill before final votes in the Senate and House of Representatives.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid hosted talks with top White House aides including chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, as well as Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus and Senator Christopher Dodd, who shepherded a version of the legislation through the Senate's health committee.
Historic legislation to expand U.S. health care and control costs won its first Republican supporter Tuesday and cleared a key Senate hurdle, a double-barreled triumph that propelled President Barack Obama's signature issue toward votes this fall in both houses of Congress.
"When history calls, history calls," said Maine Republican Olympia Snowe, whose declaration of support ended weeks of suspense and provided the only drama of a 14-9 vote in the Senate Finance Committee. With her decision, the 62-year-old lawmaker bucked her own leadership on the most high-profile issue of the year in Congress, and gave the drive to remake health care at least a hint of the bipartisanship that Obama seeks.
A proposed tax on high-cost, or “Cadillac,” health insurance plans has touched off a fierce clash between the Senate and the House as they wrestle over how to pay for legislation that would provide health benefits to millions of uninsured Americans.
Supporters, including many senators, say that the tax is essential to tamping down medical spending and that over 10 years it would generate more than $200 billion, nearly a fourth of what is needed to pay for the legislation.
Critics, including House members and labor unions, say the tax would quickly spiral out of control and hit middle-class workers, people more closely associated with minivans than Cadillacs.