October 23, 2009
Senate Leader Takes Risk Pushing Public Insurance Plan
By Robert Pear and David M. Herszenhorn
WASHINGTON— In pushing to include a government-run health insurance plan in the health care bill, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, is taking a calculated gamble that the 60 members of his caucus could support the plan if it included a way for states to opt out.
Mr. Reid met with President Obama at the White House Thursday to inform him of his inclination to add the public option to the bill, but did not specifically ask the president to endorse that approach, a Democratic aide said. Mr. Obama asked questions, but did not express a preference at the meeting, a White House official said.
Mr. Reid’s outlook was shaped, in part, by opinion polls showing public support for a government insurance plan, which would compete with private insurers. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said again Thursday that the House would definitely include a public option in its version of the legislation.
Just six weeks ago the public option appeared to be dying, under fierce attack by the insurance industry. A clear majority of Democratic senators favor a government-run plan. But public statements by other senators indicate that the proposal lacks the 60 votes ordinarily needed to secure Senate approval for hotly contested legislation.
Democratic champions of the public plan, like Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, have urged Mr. Reid to take an aggressive posture, by putting the public plan in the bill and forcing opponents to try to strip it out.
“There is a growing sense that we need to lead on this issue and not wait for it to be offered on the Senate floor,” a senior Democratic aide said. “The idea is that it’s better to show some fight.”
As word of Mr. Reid’s intention spread Thursday, centrist senators from both parties said they had come together in an informal group to resist creation of a uniform nationwide public insurance program.
Leaders of the group, including Senators Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska, and Olympia J. Snowe, Republican of Maine, said they wanted to be sure the bill was not rushed to the floor.
One of the centrists, Senator Mary L. Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana, said: “I am pressing to get a government-run, taxpayer-supported public option out of the bill. I want to rely on a reformed private marketplace.”
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