Budget deal nixes centrist healthcare reform ideas

"In my mind, that is a short-sighted position," he wrote. "The employer sponsored health insurance system is currently unsustainable. Premiums are going to keep going higher and higher burdening both employers and employees. Free Choice Vouchers offered a safety-net and a bridge to another system."

The budget deal also cuts $2.2 billion in 2011 funding for healthcare co-ops, but leaves $4.4 billion in 2012 funding intact.

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) had proposed the co-ops as an alternative to a public option when it became clear during the healthcare reform debate that the Senate did not have the votes to create a Medicare-like government plan open to people younger than 65. Conrad's office did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

Liberals blasted the co-ops as unproven and insufficient.

"The proposed co-ops had very little effect on the estimates of total enrollment in the exchanges or federal costs," CBO said during the debate, "because, as they are described in the specifications, they seem unlikely to establish a significant market presence in many areas of the country or to noticeably affect federal subsidy payments."