Key senators wary of public option

<div data-recalc-dims=Sens. Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson aren’t sold on the public option.

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Independent Sen. Joseph Lieberman said Tuesday he will oppose final approval of any health care bill that has a government-run public health insurance option.

Individual states would have until 2014 to decide whether they wanted to opt out, according to Reid, a Nevada Democrat facing tough re-election prospects next year. Opting out would require action by state legislatures, two Democratic sources told CNN on Tuesday. If the state’s governor vetoed the bill, the legislature could still enact it by overriding the veto, they said. Reid has been melding legislation from the more conservative Senate Finance Committee and the more liberal Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. The Health Committee included a form of the public option in its bill, while the Finance Committee did not. On the House side, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has insisted the chamber pass a health care reform bill that includes a public option. Republicans unanimously oppose a public option, saying it would drive private insurers out of the market and eventually lead to a government takeover of the health care system. Democrats call such claims fear-mongering and say a public option is the best way to bring competition to the market. President Obama has called a public option the best way to help achieve major goals of health care reform, including expanded coverage and lower costs. The president has not, however, indicated that he would veto a bill without such a provision. Several top Democrats have previously expressed concern that the traditionally conservative Senate would not pass a bill with a public option. Reid’s health care bill, which will be given a cost assessment by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, also includes a provision from the Finance Committee bill allowing for the creation of nonprofit health care cooperatives that would negotiate collective insurance coverage for members. The majority leader’s strategy of publicizing his intention was risky, multiple sources said. Reid, however, said Monday: “I believe we … will have the support of my caucus.” He also expressed disappointment about the virtually unanimous Republican opposition to Democratic-led health care reform efforts. Reid said he hoped to eventually win over Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, the lone Republican to back the Finance Committee bill. Snowe has indicated her preference for a “trigger” provision that would mandate creation of a public health insurance option in the future if specific thresholds for expanded coverage and other changes were not met. Snowe issued a statement Monday saying she was “deeply disappointed” about Reid’s decision on the public option. She said that a decision in favor of a trigger “could have been the road toward achieving a broader bipartisan consensus in the Senate.” Reid, in turn, said he was “disappointed that the one issue, the public option, has been something that’s frightened” Snowe.