- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 9, 2009

UPDATED:

Two members of the Democratic caucus already are raising doubts about a compromise struck Tuesday evening scaling back the so-called “public option” plan in the Senate’s health care overhaul bill.

The tentative deal by 10 moderate and liberal Senate Democrats was praised by the White House on Wednesday and seen as a breakthrough that, if it holds up, could push President Obama’s top legislative priority through the chamber. The deal drops the government-backed public insurance plan but holds out the prospect the plan could be revived if private insurers fail to deliver on expanded coverage and lower costs.

In a gesture to liberals, the compromise also calls for an expansion of the Medicare health program for the elderly to people as young as 55 from the current 65. The new enrollees would buy in to Medicare.

But liberal Sen. Russ Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, a Connecticut independent who caucuses with the Demcoratic majority, both cautioned they might not sign on to the compromise deal. If no Senate Republicans support the package, all 60 members of the Democratic caucus will be needed to break a filibuster of the bill.

While I appreciate the willingness of all parties to engage in good-faith discussions, I do not support proposals that would replace the public option in the bill with a purely private approach,” Mr. Feingold said. “We need to have some competition for the insurance industry to keep rates down and save taxpayer dollars.”

Mr. Lieberman, an outspoken skeptic of the public option, said his support isn’t guaranteed yet, either.

My opposition to a government-run insurance option, including any option with a trigger, has been clear for months and remains my position today,” he said in a statement. Regarding the Medicare buy-in proposal that is being discussed, we must remain vigilant about protecting and extending the solvency of the program, which is now in a perilous financial condition. It is my understanding that at this point there is no legislative language so I look forward to analyzing the details of the plan.”

But some other Democrats were more excited about the idea. Rep. Anthony Weiner, New York Democrat and one of the strongest supporters of establishing a single-payer health care system, said the deal would help move the reform bill forward.

“The details are still sketchy, but there is one remarkable element of the emerging plan: the expansion of the smart single-payer health care plan that serves over 43 million Americans — Medicare,” he said in a statement. “Extending this successful program to those between 55 and 64, a plan I proposed in July, would be the largest expansion of Medicare in 44 years and would perhaps get us on the path to a single payer model. Medicare provides health care to all Americans over 65 and has an overhead of barely 1 percent. In a debate that hasnt focused enough on how to genuinely contain costs and deliver affordable health care, this is one idea I like a lot.”

Mr. Obama came out in support of the deal as well, calling it a “creative new framework” that will lead to passage.

“I support this effort, especially since it’s aimed at increasing choice and competition and lowering cost. So I want to thank all of you for sticking with it, for all those late nights, all the long weekends that you guys have put in,” Mr. Obama said at an event on community health centers that was attended by a handful of lawmakers. “With so much at stake, this is well worth all of our efforts.”

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