Nebraska's Sen. Nelson now the lone holdout on health bill, despite multiple meetings with Obama

Faced with growing dissent in the Democratic ranks over the removal of the public option and the Medicare buy-in from the Senate health bill, the White House took to the media Wednesday to defend its support of the bill many critics say has been gutted of its most important reforms.

President Barack Obama told ABC's Charles Gibson that the federal government "will go bankrupt" if Congress doesn't pass a health care bill. Obama said the economic burden of rising health care costs on businesses and families would eventually destabilize the federal government.

ABC's Karen Travers reports:

“If we don't pass it, here's the guarantee….your premiums will go up, your employers are going to load up more costs on you,” he said. “Potentially they're going to drop your coverage, because they just can't afford an increase of 25 percent, 30 percent in terms of the costs of providing health care to employees each and every year. “

The president said that the costs of Medicare and Medicaid are on an “unsustainable” trajectory and if there is no action taken to bring them down, “the federal government will go bankrupt.”

Obama told Gibson that anybody who says they are concerned about the rising deficit or worried about tax increases in the future has to support this health care bill.

“Because if we don't do this, nobody argues with the fact that health care costs are going to consume the entire federal budget,” the president said.

In a posting at the White House blog, Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer offered a list of changes to health care the Senate bill would create, even without a public option or expansion of Medicare. Pfeiffer also said that some progressives' argument that the bill was a win for insurance companies was "perplexing."

"If that's the case, though, it must be news to" the insurance companies, Pfeiffer wrote. "The insurance industry has been leveraging its considerable resources in a ferocious effort to defeat this bill...."

Pfeiffer said the bill in its current form would prevent denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions; would create insurance exchanges that would "increas[e] the leverage of individuals and small businesses in this insurance market"; and insurers would be "held accountable for excessive overhead costs fueled by unreasonable executive compensation and profits."

The White House's push-back against critics comes after several days of increasingly vocal criticism from the left wing of its party over the abandonment of any sort of expansion of government-run health care.

On Tuesday, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) pointed the finger at President Barack Obama, rather than Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), for the disappearance of the Medicare buy-in and public option from the Senate health reform bill.

“This bill appears to be legislation that the president wanted in the first place, so I don’t think focusing it on Lieberman really hits the truth,” Feingold said, as quoted at The Hill.

Feingold said the standards for the bill "could have been higher. I certainly think a stronger bill would have been better in every respect.”

While progressive politicians on Capitol Hill have long grumbled about the president's largely hands-off approach to the health care debate, the complaints became very vocal when the White House appeared to pressure congressional allies to capitulate to Lieberman's demand that the Medicare buy-in be removed.

But Feingold, considered one of the most liberal members of the Senate, appeared to change the channel on progressive anger towards Lieberman, and focused on the president, who has long made it clear he would be willing to support a bill that has no public option for health care.

Feingold is among a number of Democratic progressives who have voiced disappointment with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's decision to remove the public option, and then the compromise to the public option -- a Medicare buy-in -- from the bill.

House Rep. Anthony Weiner implicitly criticized the White House and the Senate Democratic leadership in a press release Tuesday.

“Snowe? Stupak? Lieberman? Who left these people in charge?" Weiner asked. "It’s time for the President to get his hands dirty. Some of us have compromised our compromised compromise. We need the President to stand up for the values our party shares. We must stop letting the tail wag the dog of this debate.”

But on CNN Wednesday morning Weiner noted that he is "not prepared to say that we should throw out the whole process." Feingold told The Hill he will wait until the Congressional Budget Office determines the cost of the new plan before deciding if he will support it.

Weiner also had tough words for Sen. Joe Lieberman, whose announcement late last week that he would not vote for a Medicare buy-in, despite advocating the notion just three months earlier, evidently led to to Sen. Reid's decision to remove the provision from the health bill.

Responding to a report in the New York Times that it was Weiner's support of the Medicare buy-in that helped convince Lieberman to oppose the idea, Wiener said, ""If this wasn't so sad, it would be amazing. ... Here you have the most important legislation for millions of Americans' health and welfare, and apparently Senator Lieberman backs away from his own proposal. Why? Because I and a professor at Yale like it."

Weiner had been quoted earlier this month as describing the Medicare buy-in proposal "an unvarnished, complete victory for people like me who have been arguing for a single-payer system."


With Sen. Joe Lieberman reportedly on board with the health reform bill following the abandonment of the Medicare buy-in, Nebraska Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson now appears to be the lone holdout among the 60 members of the Senate Democratic caucus.

The Baltimore Sun's Janet Hook reports:

The effort to win Nelson's support hinges largely on abortion policy, the same divisive issue that nearly derailed action on the healthcare bill at the last minute in the House, where anti-abortion Democrats insisted on tight restrictions on the funding of abortion under the proposed new health programs.

Nelson, seeking similar abortion restrictions, continued to withhold his support for the Senate bill despite major concessions made to him on other issues affecting the powerful insurance industry that is important to his home state. Efforts to address his abortion concerns advanced Wednesday, as another anti abortion Democrat ? Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania floated a compromise designed to strengthen guarantees that federal funds would not be used for abortion.

The Associated Press reports that Nelson has met with President Obama no fewer than three times in the past nine days, and that Nelson "has raised issues in his home state that are unrelated to the health care legislation, according to an official with close ties to the senator."