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Jim Cooper, Key Conservative Democrat, Backs Public Health Care Option (VIDEO)

First Posted: 07/10/09 06:12 AM ET Updated: 05/25/11 02:25 PM ET

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A key conservative House Democrat threw his support on Monday to a public health care option without a so-called "trigger" that could prevent it from being implemented.

"I'm for a public option. I like Chuck Schumer's approach. It does not have a trigger in it," said Rep. Jim Cooper (Tenn.), the vice chairman of the Blue Dog Health Care Task Force.

On Saturday, Cooper told constituents at a town hall on health care almost exactly the same thing. "We should be for it, just like President Obama's letter says," Cooper told a voter in response to a question about the public option under consideration as part of the health care reform.

When a second constituent asked him to clarify if that meant he supported the public option without a trigger, he responded, "My preferred position is to support Senator Chuck Schumer's plan for the public option. That has no trigger in it. I think he has done the best job so far being a senior senator and in leadership and much closer to the White House than I am."

A public option -- without a trigger -- is the top priority for health care reformers. The insurance industry and most Republicans are determined to keep that from happening. The public option would be available to anyone and would compete unsubsidized with private plans.

Cooper's support of a public option is significant, not just because of his elevated position in the Blue Dog coalition, but also because of his background in health care policy. Cooper has been teaching health care law and regulation for 12 years and is an expert in Medicare and Medicaid policy.

Cooper's stand is evolving. He had previously signed a pledge with the reform coalition Health Care for America Now expressing his support for a public option without a trigger.

But on Thursday, the Blue Dogs put out a set of principles that backed a public option only with a trigger and Cooper was featured prominently in the press release.

"The key to successful health care reform is building as broad a coalition of support as possible," said Cooper in Thursday's announcement. "The conditions we're laying out today ensure that Americans who like their current health insurance can keep it; that they will have access to their choice of quality, affordable health care plans; and that any public option exist on a level playing field. And of course, we strongly support President Obama's commitment to keep health care reform deficit-neutral."

Cooper said the the divide among Blue Dogs over the public option has to do both with politics at home and the complexity of the issue. There are, he said, 18 different public option proposals at this point.

"It's just district by district. Some people are more comfortable with health reform as an issue than others. I've been doing it for a long time, so I've been more accustomed to it," he said.

Cooper's support of a public option comes shortly after the three-minute mark of this video:

Jeff Muskus contributed reporting.

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