WASHINGTON – Liberal Democrats failed Tuesday to inject a government-run insurance option into sweeping health care legislation taking shape in the Senate Finance Committee, despite widespread accusations that private insurers routinely deny coverage in pursuit of higher profits.
The 15-8 rejection marked a victory for Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., the committee chairman, who is hoping to push his middle-of-the-road measure through the panel by week's end. It also kept alive the possibility that at least one Republican may yet swing behind the bill, a key goal of both Baucus and the White House.
(Notes Firedoglake: All ten Republicans on the committee voted against the amendment. Five Democrats (Kent Conrad, Max Baucus, Blanche Lincoln, Bill Nelson, Thomas Carper) also voted against the amendment. Eight Democrats (Jay Rockefeller, Jeff Bingaman, John Kerry, Ron Wyden, Charles Schumer, Debbie Stabenow, Maria Cantwell, Robert Menendez) vote in support of Rockefeller's amendments.)
"My job is to put together a bill that gets to 60 votes" in the full Senate, the Montana Democrat said shortly before he joined a majority on the committee in opposing the provision. "No one shows me how to get to 60 votes with a public option," the term used to describe a new government role in health care. It takes 60 votes to overcome delaying actions that Republicans may attempt on the Senate floor.
The maneuvering occurred as the committee plunged into a second week of public debate on legislation that generally adheres to conditions that President Barack Obama has called for. The bill includes numerous new consumer protections, including a ban on companies denying insurance on the basis of pre-existing conditions. At the same time it provides government subsidies to help lower-income Americans afford insurance that is currently beyond their means. It also includes steps that supporters say will begin to slow the rate of growth in health care costs nationwide.
After weeks of delay, both the House and Senate appear on track to vote on different versions of health care legislation in October. Passage in both houses would set the stage for a compromise to be passed deeper into the fall.