Eighteen senators now aboard push

Eighteen Democratic senators have now signed onto a proposal pushing the party's leadership to pass a public option health care plan using a Senate procedure that requires fewer than sixty votes.

The latest senator to join the push is Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). The letter, authored by Sen. Michael Bennett (D-CO), urges Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to pass a government-run health care plan using reconciliation, under which Democrats could enact certain elements of their health care plan with only 51 votes.

Shaheen joined Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) on Thursday.

Others who have signed the letter: Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Sherrod Brown (OH), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Jeff Merkley (OR), Bernie Sanders (VT), Al Franken (MN), Patrick Leahy (VT), John Kerry (MA), Dianne Feinstein (CA), Barbara Boxer (CA), Jack Reed (RI), Roland Burris (IL), and Tom Udall (NM).

Obama Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Thursday night that the White House would fight for the so-called public option if it were passed using the reconciliation procedure.

"If it's part of the decision of the Senate leadership to move forward, absolutely," she told Maddow.

She added that the "president said from the outset he thought that was a great way to provide cost reduction and competition, but if that is not the choice of the majority moving forward, there are other ways to get there."

The signatories urge Senate Majority Leader Reid to "bring for a vote before the full Senate a public health insurance option under budget reconciliation rules."

The public option, which has been the topic of explosive controversy throughout the health care deliberations, was passed in the House legislation but eliminated from the Senate version that was later approved.

The whole process hit a gridlock in January after the election of Republican Scott Brown to the senate, which gave the party the votes it needed to filibuster the final motion.

The letter continues, "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."

With Republicans poised to block another senate motion, Democrats have discussed using reconciliation -- which would require a simple majority of 51 senators -- to amend the bill before the House holds a final vote. A December poll found that six in ten Americans support the provision.

The liberal advocacy groups Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Democracy For America have endorsed the letter, which also encourages citizens to sign in the support of the idea. One hundred and nineteen members of Congress have also signed it.

Next Thursday President Obama will convene a bipartisan summit with Republican leaders to discuss the two parties' differences on the legislation. After initially equivocating, Republicans have confirmed they will attend.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) told Raw Story he'd join the movement Wednesday, when he became the 10th senator to do so.

With earlier reporting by Sahil Kapur.