Ben Nelson All Alone In Quest To Block Health Care Reform

06/13/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Ryan Grim Washington Bureau Chief, The Huffington Post

Sen. Ben Nelson announced at the beginning of this month that he opposed the creation of a public health care plan that people would have the option to buy into. He'd be gathering together a coalition of like-minded senators to oppose the plan, the conservative Democrat from Nebraska promised.

More than two weeks later, it's still a coalition of one.

Since Nelson's announcement, eight moderate Democrats and one Republican have told the Huffington Post that they are open to a public health care option. Two others, Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Jim Webb (D-Va.), have signed on to the idea.

Last week, Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) said they were open to a public plan but undecided. Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Penn.) said much the same in a letter to the advocacy group Health Care for America Now,

Add more names to the list of those open to a public option: Jon Tester (Mont.), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), Kay Hagan (N.C.) and Maria Cantwell (Wash.).

Because Democratic leaders have said they are willing to pass health care reform with a simple majority -- rather than the 60 votes needed for most Senate business -- fewer centrist senators are needed.

Those centrists are not entirely convinced, but they're not closed off to the idea.

"The devil's in the detail on all this stuff. My key is accessibility and affordability. Those are the two things, but I think everything should be on the table," said Tester.

"I've been on Sen. Wyden's bill because I believe in a bipartisan discussion about how we can make reforms," said Cantwell, referring to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), whose bipartisan bill does not include a public option.

Cantwell hopes for a bipartisan deal, but is open to the kind of public option compromise Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has proposed. "I don't want to sign off on his proposal, but in general I'm not opposed to the concept of having a plan like that," she said.

"It's something that I'm still looking into right now," said Hagan. "I want to be sure we have affordability and accessibility, but I also want to be sure that competition's in play and that our insurers can continue to do business... I need to go back and actually research it."

"We're looking at that option to see if it's going to be competitive and, you know, if it's going to be productive. I'm still open minded," said Lincoln.

A Nelson spokesman said that Nelson is still talking to like-minded colleagues in hopes of building a coalition opposed to the public plan.

The following 21 Democratic senators have signed onto a letter to finance committee chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and health committee chair Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.). Kennedy supports a public option; Baucus is open to one.

Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
John D. (Jay) Rockefeller (D-WV)
Dick Durbin (D-IL)
Charles E. Schumer (D-NY)
Tom Harkin (D-IA)
Daniel K. Inouye (D-HI)
Carl Levin (D-MI)
Jack Reed (D-RI)
Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
Bob Casey (D-PA)
Jim Webb (D-VA)
Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
Ted Kaufman (D-DE)
Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI)
Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MD)
Russ Feingold (D-WI)
Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD)
Claire McCaskill (D-MO)

Note to flaks: If your boss supports a public option and isn't on this list, let me know at ryan@huffingtonpost.com.

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