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New York Times - Liberals Urge Reid to Keep Public Option

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By David M. Herszenhorn

The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, met on Monday night with a group of liberal Senate Democrats who urged him not to back down from his decision to put a government-run insurance plan, or public option, in the major health care legislation that he is working to complete. Mr. Reid has said that he would include a public plan in the bill with a provision for states to opt out if they do not want to offer it. But Mr. Reid is still short at least 3 of the 60 votes he needs on a motion to bring the health care bill up for debate.

An aide to Mr. Reid said that the majority leader remained committed to retaining the public plan as he worked to secure the final votes.

The three Democratic holdouts, Senators Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Ben Nelson of Nebraska, have all expressed reservations about the public plan. The Senate Finance Committee's health care bill, which Ms. Lincoln voted for, did not include a public plan because the bill's authors did not believe it could win 60 votes.

Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, who requested the meeting on Monday night with Mr. Reid, said that liberal lawmakers had concluded that they had compromised enough on the public plan and wanted Mr. Reid to understand how they felt as he struggled to lock down the votes needed to move forward with the bill.

"Most of us in the caucus want a strong public option, support the Reid way of doing it," Mr. Brown said. "And we're confident that over time, as the debate unfolds and we take amendment after amendment after amendment, that we can get 60 votes."

"Obviously there are a couple of senators on our side that need some convincing," Mr. Brown said. But he said that there was no willingness to make further concessions.

"We figure on the public option there has been a lot of compromise already," he said. "People who oppose the public option, you know, the overwhelming number of Republicans -- maybe all of them -- and the couple or three Democrats, will have their chance on the floor to do amendments."

Senator Max Baucus of Montana, the chairman of the Finance Committee, said he believed that further compromise would be necessary on the public option for the Senate to pass a bill, a point that he said he tried to convey to the liberal senators in the meeting with Mr. Reid.

"They wanted to talk about the importance of the public option being in the bill, which I understand," Mr. Baucus said. "But the main point is that we must pass health care reform hopefully by the end of this year. But we must pass it."

Mr. Baucus added: "I made the point that 60 votes is kind of a blessing and it's a curse. The curse side is it's kind of hard to get 60. The blessing side is everybody, every one of those 60 senators knows that we must pass health care reform. So there's a strong driver there to find that solution, to find that compromise to find some way to find a solution that bridges the gap between those who strongly want the public option and the few senators on the other side who do not. There are always ways to find solutions here."

But Mr. Brown, stopping to talk to reporters on his way to a Cosi restaurant to buy a salad for dinner, said he believed all members of the Democratic caucus -- 58 Democrats and two independents -- would support a motion to proceed to the bill, and would not block President Obama's top domestic priority by refusing to let debate even start.

"I don't think in the end, anybody here in our caucus wants to be on the wrong side of history, wants to kill on a procedural motion, something as important as this," Mr. Brown said. "It's the most important thing they ever will have voted on except perhaps the Iraq war."

Mr. Brown, who is a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which included a public plan in its version of the health care legislation, said that liberals had already given a lot of ground, starting with their willingness to give up a fully government-run single-payer system, which many favor.

"A large number of people in this country including many, many doctors wanted Medicare for all," he said. "That didn't happen. Then we wanted a strong public option tied to Medicare rates. Then we wanted a public option building the Medicare network. That didn't happen. Now we are saying public option coming out of the HELP Committee. And now we're saying public option with the state opt-out. Where was the compromise coming from their side?"

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