House Democrats Wary of Strong Public Option

Friday, 23 Oct 2009 10:30 AM

By Dan Weil

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For weeks the conventional wisdom has been that a public insurance option could pass the House of Representatives as part of healthcare reform, but not the more conservative Senate.

Now both sides of that equation have been thrown into doubt.

A survey ordered by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who strongly backs the public option, showed she still needs more votes to pass the bill, The Hill news service reports.

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The survey indicates 46 Democrats would vote against a strongly worded public option, an anonymous Democratic House member told The Hill.

If every Republican votes against the health bill as expected, only 39 Democrats would be needed to prevent supporters from gaining the 218 votes needed to pass the bill.

The Hill’s anonymous source, who supports the public option, said Democratic leaders may strike the public option clause from the healthcare bill and consider alternatives. That would include a public option combined with the Medicaid program for the poor but not part of Medicare.

House moderates, including many Blue Dog Democrats, support this idea called “negotiated rates.”

A House leadership source told The Hill that plans are “in flux.”

In the Senate, meanwhile, majority leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., may include the public option in a healthcare bill he will soon bring for a floor vote, Democratic senators told The New York Times.

He apparently believes that all 60 senators voting as Democrats will support the idea, assuming it includes a way for states to opt out. That’s the number needed to prevent a Republican filibuster.

A Democratic aide told The Times that Reid let President Obama know of his idea to include the public option in a meeting Thursday but that Obama didn’t voice a preference either way.

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