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Negotiators mull public option in health care bill


WASHINGTON – Senior Senate Democrats at work with White House officialshealth care legislation are strongly considering a requirement for the federal government to sell insurance in direct competition with private industry, officials said Thursday, with individual states permitted to drop out of the system.

Liberals in Congress long have viewed such an approach, called a public option, as an essential ingredient of the effort to overhaul the

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 the private negotiations unfolding in an ornate room in the Capitol down the hall from the Senate chamber.

The final decision is up to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who led a delegation of Democrats to the White House late in the day to discuss health care with Obama.

“I’m not part of those discussions. What I’m hearing is that this is the direction of the conversation,” said Conrad, who supports an alternative approach under which nonprofit co-ops would compete with private industry.

The Senate negotiations have proceeded in unusual secrecy, attended by Reid, two Senate committee chairmen, , D-Mont., and , D-Conn., and a small group of administration officials led by White House Chief of Staff  Rahm Emanuel.

Nominally, their task is to merge bills cleared earlier in the year by two Senate committees. But in fact, they have a virtual free hand to draft legislation that Reid will then usher onto the Senate floor for one of the most widely anticipated debates in recent years.

Democrats hold a 60-40 majority in the Senate, counting two independents, precisely the number needed to overcome a threatened Republican filibuster. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, voted for the health care bill that cleared the Senate Finance Committee recently, giving Democrats one potential additional vote.

But she has long voiced opposition to a public option along the lines under consideration, as has Nelson, and other moderate Democrats have voiced skepticism. Without 60 votes, the legislation could stall even before debate began in earnest.

October 23, 2009 - Posted by | News | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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