Reid avoids public option commitment

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) avoided any commitment to a public option component to the Senate's final healthcare bill Wednesday, as well as to any deadline for the bill's passage.

The majority leader said he won't decide whether to include a public option until after the Finance Committee passes a bill that is then merged with a competing version passed this summer by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. The Obama administration has generally pushed for a public option component to healthcare legislation, and both Vice President Joe Biden Jr. and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel have recently tossed out the idea of a Thanksgiving deadline. Reid's stance on Wednesday asserted a measure of independence from the administration, although he emphasized that he would consult with Obama officials throughout the process.

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Reid said he plans to merge the two bills in coordination with the White House, Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.). He predicted the Finance Committee would wrap up its work on the bill "in the next few days." The Finance Committee voted 15-8 on Tuesday to strip a public option out of the committee version of the bill.

"I support a public option, and time will determine what's in the bill," Reid told reporters at a mid-afternoon press conference. "We'll get it to the floor as soon as we can. We have tried deadlines in the past, and I think the deadline they've given is way far in the future. We should be able to get something done by then. But I have learned in this healthcare debate that I'm not going to set any arbitrary deadlines."