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.

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."