Announcement cheers progressives; AFL-CIO may compromise on tax


Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) may have jumped the gun.

Fresh on the heels of announcing that he will include an opt-out, government-run insurance plan in the Senate health overhaul, the New York Times and Washington Post reported that Reid had not secured every Democratic vote needed to ensure the bill will make it to the Senate floor.

"Senate aides said Monday that Mr. Reid was several votes short," the Times said.

"Reid has carefully canvassed the Senate in search of 60 votes," added the Post. "So far, he has not locked down commitments from every Democrat, Senate sources said."

Reports over the weekend suggested that President Barack Obama favored a different plan for the public option, one that would be triggered only if private health insurers did not meet certain goals. The White House communications director dismissed the stories as "absolutely false" rumors late Sunday.

Critics said Obama hadn't thrown his support behind the opt-out option because he was concerned that it would not have enough votes to pass, and was interested in trying to bring Maine's Republican senator on board. Reid met with Obama last Thursday; his announcement follows this story.

One Administration reportedly said Reid's decision to include the public option was "dangerous," according to CNN.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has repeatedly said that Reid is near the 60 votes needed, and Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA), who recently defected from the Republican Party, has said he doesn't believe Democrats will defect when the plan is put to a filibuster vote, though the bill may receive fewer votes when it's finally voted on.

Reid's announcement has won praise from liberals, and may have even opened the door to compromise from labor unions, who had opposed the idea of a tax on high-cost insurance plans.

"The AFL-CIO said Monday it might accept a tax on high-value insurance plans if the tax didn't hit the middle class," the Wall Street Journal said.

As expected, Reid lost the vote of the sole Republican who supported the Senate Finance Committee's version of the bill, which did not include the public option.

“I am deeply disappointed with the majority leader’s decision to include a public option as the focus of the legislation,” Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) said in a statement, and she said that Mr. Reid had missed a chance to keep her on board.

“I still believe that a fallback safety net plan, to be triggered and available immediately in states where insurance companies fail to offer plans that meet the standards of affordability, could have been the road toward achieving a broader bipartisan consensus in the Senate,” Snowe added.

Replied Reid: "I spoke to Olympia on Friday. I've talked to her on a number of occasions. And at this stage she does not like a public option of any kind. And so we'll have to move forward on this."

Reid's decision, however, instantly won acclaim from liberals, who have voiced frustration with Reid's leadership in the Senate.

MoveOn, Families USA and Health Care for America Now all endorsed Reid's move.

The Times added: "Such praise was expected to lift his political prospects back home in Nevada where he is up for re-election next year."

"Today Senator Harry Reid delivered for the American people," declared a recommended blog post on Daily Kos. "He sent a bill to the [Congressional Budget Office] for scoring which includes a public option, and doesn't include health insurance industry-favored triggers, which would basically enable the insurance industry to continue to increase premiums and squeeze the American middle class."

"By taking this strong stand, over the objections of the White House and the powerful health insurance industry lobby, Harry Reid is ensuring that millions of Americans will be able to access the doctor," the blogger added. "He's ensuring that cancer patients will no longer have to fight with their insurance company over unjust denials, and will instead be able to focus on beating their disease."

Public option proponents say that it will save policyholders money, since a public insurer won't have to compete for profit margins. Opponents argue that it will lead to a government takeover of health care.

Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called the bill a “thousand-page, trillion-dollar bill that raises premiums, raises taxes and slashes Medicare for our seniors to create new government spending programs.”

This video is from MSNBC's News Live, broadcast Oct. 26, 2009.

Correction: Due to a typographical error, an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Sen. Arlen Specter's home state. Specter represents Pennsylvania.