House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Friday that the public health insurance option will not be included in a package of fixes to healthcare reform legislation.
Pelosi's comments throw a wrench into liberal efforts to reintroduce it to the bill. She shut the door on a possible pathway opened by Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who said earlier on Friday that he would "aggressively" push senators to vote for the plan if the House included it in the fixes.
Momentum had been building to reintroduce the government-run plan. Over 40 senators have endorsed a letter sponsored by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) that called for senators to pass the public option using the budget reconciliation process.
But the number of senators who backed the plan falls short of the 50 needed to pass the package, assuming Vice President Joe Biden votes to break a tie.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), a public option supporter, said last week that he will push for a public option in a separate bill should it not be included in the current legislation.
House Democrats are planning to pass the Senate bill and a package of fixes to it, which the Senate will pass using the reconciliation process, allowing them to sidestep a Republican filibuster with a simple majority vote.
The most recent survey by The Hill shows that Pelosi and President Barack Obama need to sway many Democrats to clear a bill by the end of next week.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) removed the public option from the Senate's bill in December because he could not attract enough centrist support for the overhaul with it included.
Pelosi gave solace to supporters of the public option, saying that its intent will largely be fulfilled with other provisions in the bill.
"While it may not have a public option, we have a purpose of the public option served by the exchanges" and other reforms, she said.
The Speaker expressed hope that the House would vote on the bill by
March 21, three days after the White House's deadline, but said that
lawmakers are prepared to take as long as necessary to finish their
Pelosi repeated that the House will start working in earnest on finishing the bill once they receive the Congressional Budget Office's score of the proposal.
"I am hoping it will be in that time frame," she said of the March 21 date, "[But] we stand ready as long as it takes to pass a bill."
The House's ability to pass the Senate's bill, however, partially rests on assurances House Democrats want from their Senate counterparts that they will pass a series of fixes to it. Many House Democrats wants several changes made to the Senate's bill and want special deals for certain states stripped from it.
Pelosi remained confident that her rank-and-file would get what they wanted.
"There are certain assurances that we want and that we will get from them before we take a vote," she said.
President Barack Obama is delaying his overseas trip scheduled to begin on March 18 for three days so that he can focus on healthcare. That decision gives House Democrats a few more days to hold a vote before Obama leaves.
An earlier version of this story was posted at 12:35 p.m.