Conrad: Votes lacking to pass public-option healthcare

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said on Sunday that Democrats won’t have enough votes to pass a White House-endorsed healthcare reform package that includes a government-run option.

President Obama is not likely to garner the support needed by his former Senate colleagues to overhaul the nation’s healthcare system if he insists on including a public option, the Budget Committee’s top Democrat said on CNN’s “State of the Union."

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“In a 60-vote environment, you’ve got to attract some Republicans as well as holding virtually all the Democrats together, and that, I don’t believe, is possible with a pure public option. I don’t think the votes are there,” Conrad said on the morning talk show.

But the adminstration remains insistent that healthcare reform include a government component in order to create more competition and lower costs for medical treatment.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos that “having some competition and having some choice for consumers is a good thing. I don't think it's any surprise that insurance companies would rather have a system where everybody must buy coverage and there are no competitors.”

The former Kansas governor made the case for a public option a day before the president is set to address a major medical society on the issue in his ongoing campaign to rally support for the controversial measure.

Republicans however remain opposed to government run healthcare, arguing that its sole purpose would be to drive out private insurance companies.

Former 2008 GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney, who appeared on Stephanopoulos’s “This Week” program following Sebelius, said that Republicans should reject any measure with a single-payer system because it is Obama’s way “of getting government in the insurance business so they can take over healthcare.”

Former Massachusetts Governor Romney also said that “every single Republican and every thinking Democrat who knows something about the private sector would realize the wrong thing for America is to get government into the healthcare business.”

Moderates on both sides of the aisle have started to embrace a slightly different proposal put forward by Conrad that would entail forming privately operated nonprofit health-insurance cooperatives. The co-ops would be run by their members but may need government assistance in the beginning stages.

Moderate GOP Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) called the co-op proposal an “intriguing idea.”

Her fellow moderate, Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.) also said that Conrad was “on to something here.”

“This can be an additional method for competition," Nelson said. "You will have private insurers. You can have cooperatives. And a lot of these ERISA-type programs are self-insured. Many large employers self-insure."

Secretary Sebelius applauded Conrad’s “creative idea, recognizing that choice and competition are good in a marketplace,” but emphasized that the president remains insistent that a public option be included in any overhaul.