Baucus praises public option, votes against it

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) championed the public option's promise even as he joined 14 other lawmakers in a vote Tuesday defeating the proposed government plan.

Ultimately, Baucus said during today's markup session that amending the committee's reform plan to include the public option would "jeopardize" the bill's Senate passage.  Although he did acknowledge the provision would spur more industry competition, he added, "Rome was not built in a day."

Baucus then expressed confidence that lawmakers could introduce the public option in subsequent sessions of Congress if the Senate Finance Committee's bill proved insolvent, explaining, "only a few major pieces of legislation were totally complete on enactment."

"I want the strongest bill I can possibly get; I want a bill that can become law," he said. "But my first job is to get this bill across the finish line. There's a lot in this bill that will reform insurance... there's a lot in this bill that will control costs... those things have to be my priority, and thus I will have to vote no today against this amendment."

Tuesday's vote against the public option is the latest defeat for liberal and progressive House and Senate Democrats, many of whom have expressed an unwillingness to vote for a healthcare reform bill that lacks a robust government plan. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) introduced the Senate Finance Committee's first of two such initiatives -- an amendment he assured in previous days had sufficient votes to pass.

However, Rockefeller's amendment was defeated easily on Tuesday by a 8-15 vote. Still pending debate is Sen. Chuck Schumer's (D-N.Y.) effort, which would also tack a public option onto Baucus' proposal.

If that effort fails, Democrats will have ample opportunity during House and Senate negotiations to introduce a government plan.