Sanders 'not on board yet' for health bill

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), one of the Senate's leading proponents of creating a government-run public option health insurance program, has not yet decided whether he can support a compromise version of healthcare reform legislation.

"I have real concerns with this bill as it stands right now," Sanders told reporters Wednesday. "So I’m not on board yet. At this moment, I am an undecided," he said. "We’re working hard to try to make this bill be a better bill. I would like to support it but I’m not there yet."

Sanders's chief complaint is that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) stripped the public option from the bill in order to placate a handful of centrist senators who had withheld their support for the bill, a maneuver that simultaneously threw into doubt the support of several liberals.

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Though Reid's gambit appears to have won over lawmakers such as Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), it agitated liberals like Sanders who fervently believe a public option is the best, or even only, way to curb health insurance industry practices. Democratic Sens. Roland Burris (Ill.) and Russ Feingold (Wis.) are also undecided for largely the same reason.

In conjunction with Reid and the White House, Sanders said he is working on additions to the legislation that he hopes, short of a public option, can give him a reason to support the legislation. "I am talking to the White House, I am talking to the Democratic leadership, trying my best to salvage some positive things in this bill," he said.

Sanders supports eliminating the private health insurance industry and enrolling everyone in Medicare and, like many liberals, views the public option as a significant compromise from their original position.

"As I’ve said a million times, the only way I will know that you’re going to have real cost-containment and comprehensive universal healthcare is a Medicare-for-all, single-payer bill," Sanders said. "But if you don’t have that – and that’s certainly not going to pass – if you don’t have that, at least you have to provide real competition to the private insurance companies through a public option. If you take that away, I don’t know what prevents the private insurance companies from continuing to raise their premiums rates."

Sanders proposed an amendment the healthcare bill to create a Medicare-for-all program but was pulled it off the floor Wednesady after Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) exploited a rarely used Senate rule requiring all legislation to be read aloud before debate can begin.


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