Health care reform poised to pass, 41 senators support public option

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The White House predicted today that the president's health care reform plan will pass the House this week and, in a related development, even the public option is looking like a very real possibility.

Robert Gibbs, the president's press secretary, warned Republicans that if they make health care an issue in the November elections, "they do so at their own peril."

"Make my day," senior White House political advisor David Axelrod said. "Let's have that fight. I'm ready to have that - and every member of Congress ought to be willing to have that debate as well."

As of today, meanwhile, 41 Senators had either signed or issued statements of support for a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid urging passage of the Public Option through reconciliation.

The senators are supporting a letter initiated by a freshman liberal, Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., who has introduced a bill into the House (H.R. 4789) which would give the option to buy into Medicare to every citizen of the United States. The Public Option Act, as it is officially named, is being called the Medicare You Can Buy Into Act by lawmakers.

"If giving people the opportunity to choose Medicare as their insurance provider causes millions to ditch their current policy for a far better deal, what's wrong with that?" Grayson asked recently after a public jobs forum in Orlando. "Obviously, the people want and need more competition in health coverage, and a public option offers that. But its just as important that we offer people not just another choice, but another kind of choice."

Grayson said open enrollment in Medicare would force private insurance companies to lower premiums in order to remain competitive.

Despite the improved prospects for meaningful health care reform, labor and its allies say public pressure must continue. They note that recent polls showing higher approval ratings for the president, the Democrats and health care reform have helped push some legislators off the fence.

The GOP, meanwhile, today lost several rounds in its bid to stall passage of the president's bill. The first setback for them came when Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., endorsed reconciliation as a means to pass the measure. Republicans had hoped Byrd would back their claim that the president and Senate Democrats are breaking the rules to pass health care legislation.

In another setback for the obstructionists was the Catholic Hospitals Association came out in favor of the president's health care proposal. The move destroys the Republican argument that abortion language in the bill weakens conscience protections for Catholic health providers.

Opponents of reform remain determined, however, to block passage of the bill.

Swing Democrats are being hammered with a multi-million dollar anti-health care campaign. The United States Chamber of Commerce is singling out 27 Democrats who supported the health care bill last year and 13 who opposed it in an effort that will cost $30 million by the end of this week. The campaign is directed at the same lawmakers President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi lobbied last week.

Supporters of health care reform note, however, that the growing public demand for health care reform explains the shift in favor of it among some lawmakers this week. Only three Democratic senators, for example, have come out opposed to the public option. The measure could pass even with six defections.

 

Photo: Demonstrators march in front Blue Cross offices in San Francisco, Sept. 22, 2009, protesting Blue Cross' oppostion to a public health insurance option as part of a health care reform package. Paul Sakuma/AP

 

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