Liberal Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), a vocal proponent of the so-called public option as part of healthcare reform, is working behind the scenes to work out a potential compromise with centrist senators, Democrats said Saturday night.
Schumer's office pushed back on these reports, saying he is merely in conversations with his fellow senators, but Schumer has been an active negotiator and a leader on crafting versions of the public option throughout the debate.
As reported by Talking Points Memo, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), one of three Democrats who withheld their support for a key procedural vote until virtually the last minute based on objections to the public option and other parts of the bill introduced by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said that Schumer and Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) have been working with her and other centrists on finding an alternative to Reid's proposal.
"Sen.Schumer's working on that. He's sort of been tasked as one of the point people," Landrieu said to TPM. "He's been tagged as one of the point people to help negotiate that."
Reid welcomed the talks while standing behind his version, which would allow states to opt out. "First of all, I support a strong public option," he said after the Senate passed the procedural motion Saturday. "I welcome Sens. Schumer, Landrieu and Carper, who Sen. Landrieu said they're working together to find a public option that's acceptable to all Democrats." Carper is a supporter of the public option but has been trying to work with centrists to find an alternative that they would support, such as a version that would automatically kick in if private insurers were to fail to offer affordable insurance when the reform bill kicks in in 2014.
Schumer's office suggests Landrieu's accounts, and subsequent press reports exaggerate Schumer's activities. "Leading up to tonight's vote, some senators expressed a desire to discuss the public option currently in the Senate bill. Of course, Senator Schumer did not rule that out," Schumer spokesman Brian Fallon later told TPM. "But no such talks have yet taken place, and there is not any compromise at hand beyond what Leader Reid has already inserted into the bill."
Public option supporters in the Senate and the House credit Schumer with devising the first compromise version of the public option, which forms the basis of the program in both chambers' bills. Under Schumer's "level playing field" public option, the government program would have to abide by the same insurance regulations as private companies and would have to sustain itself through the premiums it charges, not through federal funding.
Schumer also spent weeks this summer trying to reconcile his favored public option with a proposal from Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) to create not-for-profit healthcare cooperatives as an alternative to private insurance. Schumer and Conrad never reached an agreement and Conrad's provisions ended up part of the healthcare bill approved by the Finance Committee, of which both senators are members. Reid's bill includes both Conrad's co-ops and the opt-out version of Schumer's public option.