Sen. Schumer says centrists are 'very open' to public option

Centrist Democrats are "very open" to including a public option in health legislation before the Senate, an ardent supporter said Monday.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has been at the forefront of the Senate battle to include the controversial government-run plan for consumers, said there are between 54 and 56 votes in the Senate in favor of the provision, with several more votes able to be won.

"Here's how you have to look at it: The overwhelming majority of Democrats in the Senate are for it," Schumer said this morning during an appearance on MSNBC. "I'm talking to some of the moderates, and they're very open to it."

Schumer pointed to last week's defeat during the Senate Finance Committee markup of a healthcare bill, in which amendments to include a public option in Sen. Max Baucus's (D-Mont.) bill failed, but provided some indicators as to where other lawmakers stand.

Schumer said the committee vote provided the first indications that Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.) would support the public option. Democratic leaders previously had been unsure of their votes.

"Inside, we were all happy," Schumer said, adding that he and other Democratic senators are targeting Baucus, along with Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) for additional votes on the public option.

He maintained that the final bill to pass through all of Congress would have a public option, whether the Senate passes it initially or has to rely on a budget manuever in the conference report to avoid the 60-vote filibuster threshold.

The New York senator, who headed up Democrats' 2008 campaign efforts in the Senate, also said that the fate of healthcare legislation and the political fate of President Barack Obama would largely affect Democrats' political fortunes in the 2010 midterm elections.

"In 2010, like it or not, we're tied to Obama," he said. "If his numbers are poor, we're going to do poorly."