A proposal to include a government-funded insurance option as part of sweeping health care legislation making its way through Congress faced a serious setback Tuesday as it failed to win approval in the Senate Finance Committee.
That’s good news for Sen. Max Baucus, the moderate Democrat from Montana who has been pushing his more conservative proposal – one that does not include the public option. It could also prove to be good news for the Democratic Party in that at least one Republican could decide to back the legislation.
House Democrats are now attempting to chisel their version of health care legislation down to $900 billion across 10 years. "It's hard work, but we're determined to get it down," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) a member of the Senate Finance Committee, argues that critics of the public option are trying to distort the proposal. It is not an attempt by government to take over the insurance business, as some suggest, he said. "It's not. It's optional," he said, adding it was designed to offer competition and a lower-priced, reliable choice for consumers shopping for coverage.
That has stopped opponents, like Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), from blasting the proposal "Washington is not the answer," he said.
Baucus said that even though he agrees that the public option would prove beneficial, it stands a slim chance of making it into law. "The public option would help to hold insurance companies' feet to the fire. I don't think there's much doubt about that, but my first job is to get this bill across the finish line," said the chairman. "No one shows me how to get to 60 votes with a public option."
It would take 60 votes in the 100-member Senate to overcome any filibuster Republicans might attempt.