By Jared Allen - 02/23/10 05:47 PM EST
After months on life support, the public option died Tuesday.
White House and House leaders on Tuesday pronounced the government-run
health program dead even as some Democratic senators continued their
effort to resurrect it.
number of Senate Democrats voicing support for including a public
option in the final healthcare bill — and for using reconciliation
rules to pass that legislation in the Senate — grew to 25 Tuesday. But
that’s still 25 votes short, with little to no chance of reaching the
The White House on Tuesday squelched any momentum the public option had attracted over the last week.
his daily briefing on Tuesday, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs
said that Obama chose not to include a public option in the healthcare
plan he released on Monday based on an acknowledgment that the Senate
simply lacks the votes for such a maneuver.
“We have seen,
obviously, that though there are some that are supportive of this,
there isn’t enough political support in a majority to get this
through,” Gibbs said. “The president … took the Senate bill as the base
and looks forward to discussing consensus ideas on Thursday.”
second-ranking Democrat in the House, where support for a public option
had been the strongest, made similar arguments. House Majority Leader
Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) indicated that the public option is likely dead,
citing Obama’s decision not to include it in his healthcare proposal
that was released on Monday.
Hoyer did say, however, that the
House still has the votes to pass a public option. The House healthcare
reform measure that passed in November called for a government-run
program. The Senate-passed bill did not.
“But I think that it
is obviously an item that the president has decided — he was for the
public option as well — is not something that perhaps the Senate can
buy,” Hoyer said.
The majority leader also said Democrats may pursue a scaled-back health bill.
a Tuesday afternoon event previewing the House’s consideration of a
bill to strip private health insurers of their anti-trust exemption,
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) did not criticize the lack of a public
insurance plan in Obama’s bill, and also suggested that it simply may
not have the votes to pass in the upper chamber.
other ways to do that,” Pelosi said of mechanisms to create competition
and lower healthcare costs. “We intend to do that in the bill. [The
public option] seems to me the best way to us, but that will depend on
what the Senate can pass on the Senate side.”
Even if Senate
Democrats do not seek a public option, it remains to be seen if they
have the votes to pass a healthcare bill through reconciliation. Adding
a public option to the equation will likely cost them support.
much of the healthcare debate, liberals have pressured the White House
to push lawmakers in both chambers to support a government-run
healthcare plan. The White House has said it generally supports a
public option but has refrained from demanding that congressional
leaders include it in their legislation.
from Gibbs drew an immediate and sharp rebuke from liberal groups,
including the Progressive Change Campaign (PCC).
House obviously has a loser mentality,” PCC co-founder Adam Green said
in a statement. “Polls show that in state after state, voters hate the
Senate bill and overwhelmingly want a public option, even if passed
with zero Republican votes. More than 50 Senate Democrats and 218 House
Democrats were willing to vote for the public option before, and the
only way to lose in reconciliation is if losers are leading the fight.”
a clear appeal to liberals, Obama widened the health insurance tax
credits for low- and middle-income people, added stricter federal
regulation of insurance companies and premium hikes and targeted the
“doughnut hole” coverage gap in the Medicare prescription drug program.
proposal also raises the dollar threshold of the excise tax on
so-called “Cadillac” insurance plans so as to make the tax applicable
to fewer people. His plan also delays the implementation of the excise
tax until 2018, and would apply the tax exemption to anyone with a
high-cost plan, not just to union workers. Liberals in the House
especially had sought and won that concession in January before Sen.
Scott Brown’s (R-Mass.) election derailed House and Senate negotiations.
Whether those concessions will satisfy liberals is unclear.
really beginning the process in the caucus over again,” said Rep. Peter
DeFazio (D-Ore.), a supporter of reviving the public option through
reconciliation. “There’s no fait accompli here, there’s been no
whipping, there’s been no pushing. There’s been very little opportunity
for members to respond so far. And they say we will have more sessions,
particularly after Thursday.”
Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) are spearheading efforts to persuade
congressional leaders to include a public option in a final healthcare
Walter Alarkon and Jeffrey Young contributed to this article.