A small but pivotal group of Senate leaders and White House staff are leaning toward a national insurance option despite opposition from Republicans and some centrist Democrats.
Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said that closed-door talks between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and the chairmen of two Senate panels are “leaning towards a national public option,” a move that he said could scatter party votes and isolate the one Republican who voted for the package. Nelson, a swing vote who is being courted hard by Democrats and the GOP, said he favors an option that would allow states to shape their own public plans if they choose to do so.
Reid, along with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), have met daily with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and other White House officials to meld components of two health reform bills.
The decision to include a public plan apparently was made late Wednesday by the group, according to another senator who was briefed on the discussion. Baucus acknowledged that the negotiations have focused, in part, on the public option, but was adamant that nothing has been finalized.