Senator Schumer: "There Will Be a Public Option"
by Charles Lemos, Sun Jul 05, 2009 at 06:18:19 PM EDT
Today on CBS' Face the Nation, two senior Senators, one a Democrat and the other a Republican, on the Senate Finance Committee offered widely different assessments on how the final health care reform package would look. Not surprising, the object of their discord was the public option in the US health care reform proposals now working their way through the Senate.
Senator Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat, was emphatic. "Make no mistake about it, the president is for this strongly. There will be a public option in the final bill." Naturally, Iowa's Republican Senator Chuck Grassley begged to differ. "The federal government is in the process of nationalizing banks, nationalizing General Motors. I'm going to make sure we don't nationalize health insurance and [the] public option is the first step to doing that," countered Senator Grassley.
More from The Hill:
Despite the bipartisan negotiations going on behind the scenes on the Finance Committee, Schumer pointedly noted that the House and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee have written a public option into their bills. Combined with Obama's continued support for the proposal, Schumer suggested, that bodes well for the prospects of the public option making into the final legislation the president wants on his desk this Autumn.
"The House has proposed its plan, has a strong public option. The HELP Committee, the other committee in the Senate doing this, has proposed a strong public option," Schumer said.
Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and six other committee members, including Grassley, have been meeting behind closed doors to draft a bipartisan bill. At the urging of Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), the senators are leaning toward setting aside a true public option in favor of establishing not-for-profit, member-owned health insurance cooperatives to compete with traditional insurance companies. Though the notion appeals to Republicans and some centrist Democrats, supporters of the public option do not view it as an acceptable compromise.
Schumer emerged earlier this year as a vocal proponent of the public option and offered a model for the plan that he positioned as a compromise itself. Under Schumer's proposal, which closely resembles what the House and the HELP Committee are considering, the public option would receive no federal funding, be financed entirely by premiums and have to abide by the same insurance regulations as private firms.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) reiterated on Fox News Sunday that the lower chamber's bill will include a strong public option. "We think there's going to be a public option. Yes, we think we need that. We need to make sure that there is an option available for public that can't get through at the private insurance. We think that's essential if you're going to have access," Hoyer said.
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) indicated that a public option would be a deal-breaker for Republicans. "I think having the government have a plan to compete with the private sector is unfair, because the government has no cost of capital," Boehner said.
On the other hand, the public option is our line in the sand. It's non-negotiable.
Update [2009-7-5 23:29:17 by Charles Lemos]: There seems to be some contention as to Senator Schumer's comments. Here's the relevant part of the transcript:
SCHUMER: Well, we're making every effort to reach common ground. But let me just say this. We need somebody to keep the public -- the private insurance companies honest. They are terribly concentrated. In Chuck Grassley's own state, 71 percent by one company. In 94 percent of the markets, according to the Justice Department, health insurance is highly concentrated. So without a public option, you're going to have no competition. And the public is going to be forced -- you know, they don't like the insurance companies simply raising prices and raising prices and cutting back on coverage and cutting back on coverage. I am not saying that the public option should be the only option. There are some who do say that, particularly in my party. But we shouldn't say there should be no public option. We should have this insurance exchange and let both sides compete. And let's see which one does better. Each one claims to have advantages. I think both will exist in the market. A public option may be better for some. A private insurance company may be better for others. No one is going to force anyone who has private insurance to give it up. The president has promised that over and over again. And we can come to a middle ground. Already, John, the House has proposed its plan, has a strong public option. The HELP Committee, the other committee in the Senate doing this, has proposed a strong public option. The Finance Committee, we're trying to come to some compromise but make no mistake about it, the president is for this strongly. There will be a public option in the final bill, some form of it. And hopefully Chuck Grassley and I and others can come to an agreement on how that should work. We want it to be a fair, level playing field, but you need something the big boys honest. And the only thing that really is out there is a public option. We don't trust the private insurance companies left to their own devices and neither do the American people. Seventy percent of the American people support a public option. So do 50 percent of...
The full transcript is at Real Clear Politics. My read is that Senator Schumer was unequivocal. There will be a public option. Your thoughts? Did he or didn't he?