Senate Moving Closer To Public Option
The more appropriate question might be what type of public option.
Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid attempts to merge two vastly different pieces of health care legislation. He must create a product that appeals to 60 Senators in order for it to pass. The devil will be in the details
Conservative Democrats have been skeptical of a public option but seem to be leaving the door open. But their idea of what it should look like is different than what the liberal Democrats would like.
Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska is interested in an idea that would create the public option at the state level so that states create their own terms and decide if they want to participate. “I am taking a very close look at it. I think it’s an interesting idea at the least,” Nelson said.
For conservative Democrat Kent Conrad of North Dakota, he says a public option “tied to Medicare levels of reimbursement would be harmful to my state.” Because North Dakota has low reimbursement levels, Conrad said “that is not something I could support.”
But Senator Conrad did not close the door on a public option that ties reimbursement to current market rates or some other formula.
Conservative Democrat Mark Pryor of Arkansas succinctly summarized the scenario. “It all depends on how it’s structured and when you talk to 5 different Senators you get 5 different opinions,” Pryor said.
Even as it seems the public option is not completely dead in the Senate, that’s where the role of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid becomes difficult. He must assess the demands and wish lists of his colleagues in an attempt to create a package that will garner the support of 60.
Though conservative Democrats are not the only ones demanding attention. The more liberal members of the caucus are insisting on a public option and many say their support of health care reform rests on it.
Senator Reid is meeting behind closed doors with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel and Senators Max Baucus, Chair of the Finance Committee, and Chris Dodd who lead the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee through the process. They are two senators who wrote two vastly different bills. Senator Dodd’s version has a federally run public option which covers more people and adds to the deficit. Senator Baucus’ version includes a member run cooperative to provide health insurance.
“There are four or five or six issues that are significant issues but I believe we can reach common ground,” Dodd said.
Meanwhile over in the House of Representatives, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is also merging their three bills. Though the House bills are more similar and Speaker Pelosi insists that it will include a public option.
“This is about going into that room and coming out with the best coverage and the lowest cost for America’s working families. I believe that is best achieved by going into the table with a public option,” Pelosi said.
The House version will likely include a federal public option program to be administered by the government, but again, the details are still unclear.
At the end of the process, the House and the Senate bill will have to, once again, merge the two versions into one. It‘s a process that could be tedious as both bodies of Congress will have to approve.
It is commonly said here on Capitol Hill that health care reform is only in the second quarter.
So until the final minutes of the game, Senator Reid is reaching out to members of his Democratic caucus and a few Republicans to create a bill that has the best chance to pass, after which the bill will likely still be amended when it reaches the Senate floor. That will be called the third quarter.