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Alert: (Politico.com) Four Democratic senators — including two in tough reelection battles — sent a letter Tuesday to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) urging him to bring the public insurance option back up for a vote.
The lead signer is Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, a vulnerable incumbent. Others include Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who is trying to fend off a primary election challenge from former Rep. Harold Ford.
“Although we strongly support the important reforms made by the Senate-passed health reform package, including a strong public option would improve both its substance and the public’s perception of it,” the letter stated. “The Senate has an obligation to reform our unworkable health insurance market — both to reduce costs and to give consumers more choices. A strong public option is the best way to deliver on both of these goals, and we urge its consideration under reconciliation rules.”
Bennet took the lead in the Senate to round up co-signers for the letter, which was spearheaded by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Democracy for America and Credo Action. A similar effort in the House netted 119 signers to a letter.
The senators have made the calculation that the public option is popular with Democrats, and the absence of one in the final bill is one reason that voters are unenthusiastic about it.
When the public option was still on the table, proponents in the Senate thought a majority of the Democratic caucus would vote it, making the inclusion of one in a bill passed through reconciliation a mathematical possibility.
But in the post-Massachusetts environment, leadership aides have said there is no discussion of returning to the public option, even though it remains popular with members. Senate Democrats have expressed skittishness about using reconciliation, fearing it would open them up to attacks from Republicans. Most Democrats say they are fine with reconciliation only to make narrow fixes to the Senate bill.
In the letter, the senators argue reconciliation has been used to enact significant health legislation, including the Children’s Health Insurance Plan.
“There are four fundamental reasons why we support this approach — its potential for billions of dollars in cost savings; the growing need to increase competition and lower costs for the consumer; the history of using reconciliation for significant pieces of health care legislation; and the continued public support for a public option,” the letter stated.
Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Democracy for America, and Credo Action, which plan to mobilize their supporters Tuesday by e-mail, issued a joint statement:
“This is a historic moment in the fight to give Americans the choice of a public option and senators Bennet, Gillibrand, Merkley, and Brown deserve immense praise for their leadership. Every day, it becomes increasingly clear that the best way to ‘fix’ the original Senate bill is to pass the highly popular public option through reconciliation. It’s the populist reform that the House will need to pass both bills together and the key change Democratic and Independent voters will need in order to believe in health care reform again and show up in 2010.”