Senate reform bill earns plaudits

SENATE REFORM BILL EARNS PLAUDITS…. Now that a Senate health care bill is on the move, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s announcement is causing quite the predictable stir. Since his press conference ended about an hour ago, there have been some noteworthy reactions.

The White House, for example, was reportedly cool to the Reid approach. Soon after Reid’s announcement, however, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs issued this statement:

“The President congratulates Senator Reid and Chairmen Baucus and Dodd for their hard work on health insurance reform. Thanks to their efforts, we’re closer than we’ve ever been to solving this decades-old problem. And while much work remains, the President is pleased that at the progress that Congress has made. He’s also pleased that the Senate has decided to include a public option for health coverage, in this case with an allowance for states to opt out. As he said to Congress and the nation in September, he supports the public option because it has the potential to play an essential role in holding insurance companies accountable through choice and competition.”

Two of the five sentences in that paragraph express support for a public option. I think the White House is trying to tell us something.

Perhaps more interesting was the reaction from Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who has been a public option detractor.

“It is time to make our system work better for patients and providers, for small business owners and for our economy. It is time for health care reform. For more than a year, we’ve been working to meet the goals of reducing the growth of health care costs, improving quality and efficiency and expanding coverage. There are a tremendous number of complicated issues that go into reform and the public option is certainly one of them. I included a public option in the health reform blueprint I released nearly one year ago, and continue to support any provision, including a public option, that will ensure choice and competition and get the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate. Success should be our threshold and I am going to fight hard for the 60 votes we need to meet that goal this year.”

What’s fascinating about this is that Baucus was reportedly fighting tooth and nail to keep the public option out of the merged bill. This statement suggests he’s on board with Reid’s bill, and almost seems to be trying to take some credit for it.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who’s done as much heavy-lifting on the public option as anyone in the Senate, was one of the first to issue a statement, and he seems delighted.

“Leader Reid has always been a strong supporter of a public option that could help keep the insurers honest, and today he showed just how deep his commitment is. The public option has new life because as Americans have learned more about it, they have come to see it is the best way to reduce costs and increase competition in the health insurance industry. This form of public option is not exactly what either liberals or moderates would want. But a public plan based on a level playing field, with an opt-out for states, is the best compromise that has the potential of getting 60 votes in the Senate.”

Richard Kirsch, the national campaign manager for Health Care for America Now, also sees today’s announcement as encouraging.

“We applaud Majority Leader Reid’s leadership in making sure the Senate bill includes a public health insurance option to lower costs and inject much-needed competition into the health insurance marketplace. We appreciate his recognizing a public health insurance option is key to achieving meaningful reform, protecting consumers, and keeping insurers honest.

“As we move forward, it is essential that Senate legislation addresses all of our key concerns including making sure health care is truly affordable, ensuring employer responsibility, generating revenue through fair financing rather than taxing higher-cost plans, and implementing a strong public health insurance option.

“We now call on all Senators to stand with leadership and vote to begin debate on the floor. We are closer now than ever before to achieving a true guarantee of good, affordable health care for all. With 47 million people uninsured, tens of millions underinsured, and businesses and families throughout the country struggling with rising costs, there can be no excuse for blocking a full and fair Senate debate on health care reform.”

As for reform opponents, the National Republican Senatorial Committee issued an odd statement calling Reid a “partisan bully.” I’m not altogether sure what that means, or why Reid would be called that, but the NRSC is mysterious. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell added that the “American public clearly does not like, and doesn’t support” the Democratic effort.