The Senate Finance Committee rejected Sen. Jay RockefellerJohn (Jay) Davison RockefellerHumorless politics a sad sign of our times Bottom Line World Health Day: It's time to fight preventable disease MORE’s (D-W.Va.) amendment to tack a public option onto the committee’s healthcare bill.
After nearly four hours of debate, the amendment fell on an 8-15 vote, with Republicans united against it and Democrats vociferously defending the notion of providing people with a not-for-profit insurance company backed by the government.
But Democrats on the committee did not mirror the GOP’s unity. As expected, Baucus and Democratic Sens. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by AT&T - US speeds evacuations as thousands of Americans remain in Afghanistan Biden finds few Capitol Hill allies amid Afghanistan backlash Trains matter to America MORE (Del.), Kent Conrad (N.D.), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) and Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonElon Musk mocks Biden for ignoring his company's historic space flight How will Biden's Afghanistan debacle impact NASA's Artemis return to the moon? Biden to talk Russia, anti-corruption with Ukraine's president MORE (Fla.) joined all 10 of the panel’s Republicans to vote down Rockefeller’s amendment. Notably, Baucus and Conrad, along with Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), spent months trying to strike a deal with three committee Republicans.
Health insurance companies are “rapacious,” Rockefeller said, pointing to industry practices such as rescinding policies or jacking up premiums when people get sick. “It’s a subject that ought to make us very angry,” he said, but “in the face of all of this, we’re giving them a half a trillion dollars in subsidies. I don’t understand that.”
Baucus said he left the public option out of the bill, and voted against Rockfeller’s amendment, because he did not believe it had enough support in the Senate to make it all the way to President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBill Maher, Isiah Thomas score over the NFL's playing of 'Black national anthem' Democrats confront 'Rubik's cube on steroids' White House debates vaccines for air travel MORE’s desk. “My job is to get a bill that can get 60 votes,” he said. “I can count.
“If this provision is in the bill coming out of the committee, it will jeopardize real, meaningful healthcare reform,” Baucus said. “I want a bill that can become law.”
Nevertheless, Baucus indicated that he has no objection to the proposal itself. “I see a lot to like in the public option,” he said. “The public option would help to keep the insurance companies’ feet to the fire. There’s no doubt about that.”
But Baucus defended his chairman’s mark of the bill, pointing to new insurance market reforms requiring companies to sign up anyone regardless of pre-existing conditions and limiting insurers’ ability to charge higher premiums to older and sicker people. The bill also would assess $67 billion in fees on insurers over 10 years. ”Some of your questions sort of leave the indication that the mark is easy on the insurance industry, and it’s not,” Baucus said.
“We need a public option to create competition and bring down costs,” said Sen. Charles SchumerChuck SchumerMcConnell signals Senate GOP will oppose combined debt ceiling-funding bill Centrist state lawmaker enters Ohio GOP Senate primary Biden discusses agenda with Schumer, Pelosi ahead of pivotal week MORE (D-N.Y.), who will bring up a separate public option amendment later in the committee markup.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that by 2015, about 8 million people would sign up for Rockefeller’s plan, though that number would decline as pay rates to medical providers rise above what Medicare pays after two years. Over 10 years, Rockefeller’s public option would save the federal government $50 billion, the CBO projects.
Conrad touted his proposal to create not-for-profit healthcare cooperatives and said that payments to medical providers under Rockefeller’s amendment would be too low and “would bankrupt every major hospital in my state. ... I can’t possibly support an amendment that does that.” Bingaman, a public option supporter who voted for a healthcare bill in the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, said Rockefeller’s amendment is “not my preferred choice” for the same reason.
Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchCongress, stop holding 'Dreamers' hostage Drug prices are declining amid inflation fears The national action imperative to achieve 30 by 30 MORE (R-Utah) succinctly summed up the Republican view: “A new government plan is nothing more than a Trojan horse for a single-payer healthcare plan in Washington,” he said. “The end result would be a government takeover of our healthcare system.”
Finance Committee ranking member Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyGrassley calls for federal prosecutor to probe botched FBI Nassar investigation Woman allegedly abused by Nassar after he was reported to FBI: 'I should not be here' Democrat rips Justice for not appearing at US gymnastics hearing MORE (R-Iowa) wielded an old quotation from President Barack Obama’s 2004 Senate campaign, as well as quotes from Democratic Reps. Jan Schakowsky (Ill.) and Barney Frank (Mass.) and Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein as proof that liberals see the public option as a backdoor to eventually implementing a single-payer system. “The government is not a competitor. It’s a predator,” Grassley said.
The Finance Committee isn’t finished with the public option debate, however. Schumer’s amendment is due for a vote later Tuesday and Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine) could also raise her amendment that establish a “trigger” that would institute a public option in states with too few private insurance choices. In addition, Democratic and Republican senators have filed amendments to modify or strip Conrad’s language in the bill to create not-for-profit healthcare cooperatives as an alternative to private insurance.
But the committee remains unlikely to advance its legislation with a public option included. Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDemocrats say Biden must get more involved in budget fight Biden looks to climate to sell economic agenda Justice Breyer issues warning on remaking Supreme Court: 'What goes around comes around' MORE (D-Nev.) will have to hash out whether the healthcare reform bill that goes to the floor features a public option, however, because the HELP Committee already approved a bill that has one. Reid said last week that while he supports the public option, he think’s Snowe’s trigger proposal is a “doggone good idea” and preferable to Conrad’s co-ops.
Rockefeller declared that the fight is not over. “Public option is on the march,” he said.
The ultimate fate of the public option on the Senate floor is unclear. Liberals strongly back the idea, but centrist Democrats range from opposed to skeptical. But HELP Committee Chairman Tom HarkinThomas (Tom) Richard HarkinFCC needs to help services for the deaf catch up to videoconferencing tech Biden celebrates anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act Ex-Rep. Abby Finkenauer running for Senate in Iowa MORE (D-Iowa) said Tuesday that he is confident that a public option could win a majority of votes in the Senate. “I have polled senators, and the vast majority of Democrats — maybe approaching 50 — support a public option,” Harkin said on the liberal "Bill Press Radio Show."
Michael O’Brien contributed to this article.