Durbin, Feinstein rally for public option

Centrist Democrats acted appropriately in supporting a healthcare reform bill with a public option, senior Democrats Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) and Dick Durbin (Ill.) said Sunday on NBC's "Meet The Press," vowing a vigorous fight until the end of the coming debate.

On the heels of the Senate's 60-39 vote on Saturday night for the Democratic-written healthcare bill, Feinstein immediately adressed the concern among centrist Democrats that the bill's cost is too high.

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"You have the vote, and I think the vote will decide," Feinstein said, referring to the nature of Saturday's procedural vote, which is far from a final vote. "To not to vote, to not to consider this question... America's in serious problems with respect to healthcare. Virtually every other developed country has a better system than we do. Ours is costly, in places it's ineffective, it's deeply troubled, and the time has come to really see that people who have no insurance can really get insurance."

Feinstein touted the phased-in nature of the bill, noting its small-business tax credits start immediately while more controversial aspects such as the public option component come online in 2014.

"The bill, in a sense, is incremental," she said. "We can watch it. We can change it. The important thing is, we debate it... We're at the beginning of what is a great national debate."

Saturday's procedural vote was only a beginning step in a weeks-long process towards final congressional passage, with ultimate approval unlikely until January. But Republicans have been on the attack, starting with the Democratic caucus's own members — namely Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Connecticut Independent who conferences with Democrats and who has been skeptical about a public-option component to the law.

Lieberman told NBC's "Meet The Press" host David Gregory that he voted Saturday to continue scrutiny, but that "I don't think anybody thinks this bill will pass as written."

Pressed on his filibuster threat against the bill, Lieberman said the only Senate opponents to a public-option component are empowered early in the process.

""If the public option is still in there, the only option we have is to reporting the bill off the floor, but let me explain... We've got to make choices. We've got a healthcare system that has real troubles. But we have an economic system that is in real crisis. And I don't want to fix the problems in our healthcare system in a way that creates more of an economic crisis."

Senate Majority Leader Durbin, on the same program, said he believed Lieberman would follow the same Democratic line, noting that insurance companies currently operate outside federal antitrust exemption laws

"We need competition. We need choices. We have to put some honesty back into the insurance market," Durbin said. "I hope we can move to a point where we satisfy Joe Lieberman's concerns that this does not end up being a government debt, but ends up being a government solution."

Pressed on the possibilities that Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine) may support a bill that includes a public-trigger, or some sort of watered-down, government-run option, Durbin was succinct.

"There are many variations on the theme," Durbin said. "I'm committed to a public option. We've put together a good bill. We are open, because we want to pass this bill. At the end of the day, we want insurance to be more affordable, we want to stop the insurance industry abuses, we want to give the American people a choice in this decision."

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) said she would vote for a bill that authorized federal control of government insurance rates, but only tied to inflation, not to government-tied inflation rates.

"Every hospital that treats patients will be cut in this bill. Every hospital that treats patents who don't pay will be cut," Hutchison said, referring to Medicare payments proposed by some Democrats under the bill. "So what are they going to gain? We don't have to tear down our entire whole system and the choices that we have and the quality healthcare that we have in order to give more affordable healthcare."