- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Democrat lashed out at Democrat on Tuesday, interrupting, snubbing and dissing each other before splintering apart over the issue of … a public health care option?

After months building up to the moment when the core of President Obama’s health care agenda would take center stage on Capitol Hill, Senate Democrats quickly devolved into petty intraparty bickering — not quietly, in private, but right there in the capacious Room 216 of the Hart Senate Office Building.

“Could you address what your amendment does with regard to the setting of prices?” Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida asked fellow Democrat Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia.

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“I will not answer that question,” a miffed Mr. Rockefeller said. “I want to focus on my amendment.”

“I’m giving you bouquets,” the Florida senator said sweetly. “I want you to help me.”

“But I want you to focus on this amendment,” the West Virginia senator said. “I assume it’s going to pass unanimously,” he added confidently as Day 5 of the Senate Finance Committee debate opened Tuesday morning.

Mr. Rockefeller’s amendment sought to tie the government-run health care option to Medicare levels of reimbursement, but that a drew resounding raspberry from another Democrat, North Dakota’s Sen. Kent Conrad, who claimed every major hospital in his state “goes broke” if the plan passes.

“I can’t possibly support an amendment that does that,” he said

Later, Mr. Rockefeller got his dander up as yet another Democrat, Sen. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, demanded details of the proposed amendment. “You’re not going to respond?” the West Virginian asked incredulously.

“Oh, I’m glad to respond,” Mr. Bingaman said.

Republicans enjoyed the circular firing squad, with Democrats sniping about minutia within the Rockefeller amendment. Even more, though, the outnumbered Republicans saw the public dissent as a reason to question the entire premise of a public option — which nearly every committee Democrat insisted had the support of 70 percent of the American public.

“If it was so popular, why are there so many Democrats that have a problem with it?” Sen. John Ensign, Nevada Republican, asked. “Why is it causing your side so much consternation of not being able to get the bill through? I think the reason is because it’s not popular.”

What was clearly unpopular among committee Democrats was the public option proposed by Mr. Rockefeller, a 25-year Senate veteran. Just after lunch, his amendment went down in flames, with only eight ayes to 15 nays (five Democrats, including the Senate Finance Committee chairman, Sen. Max Baucus, joined all 10 Republicans to vote against the plan).

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