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Pelosi Backs Off Public Option

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The public health insurance option died on Thursday, December 10, 2009, after a months-long struggle with Senate parliamentary procedure. The time of death was recorded as 11:12 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.

Its death had been rumored numerous times over the past year, but the public option repeatedly and defiantly battled back. The Senate's insistence on 60 votes, combined with President Obama's decision not to intervene on its behalf, eventually proved overwhelming.

The public option leaves behind a Medicare buy-in for people aged 55-64, an expansion of Medicaid, a quasi-public option for those under 300 percent of the poverty line and a collection of national private plans managed by the Office of Personnel Management.

The one remaining chance for the public option rested with the House somehow forcing its will on the Senate.

But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) pulled the final plug in a press briefing with reporters Thursday.

She had often said in the past that a health care bill without a public option simply wouldn't have the votes to pass the House. She was asked about that claim Thursday, in relation to the Senate compromise, and pointedly told reporters that any bill could pass as long as it met certain broad goals.

"Well, what I said -- it is a two‑part statement that quotes what the President has said. We believe, we in the House believe, that the public option is the best way to hold insurance companies honest -- to keep them honest and also to increase competition. If there is a better way, put it on the table. As soon as we see something in writing from the Senate, we will be able to make a judgment about that. But our standards are that we have affordability for the middle class, security for our seniors, closing the donut hole and sustaining the solvency of Medicare. Responsibility to our children, so not one dime is added to the deficit. And accountability of insurance companies. We will take a measure of that bill in those regards," Pelosi said.

A reporter pointed out that some House liberals had spoken positively of the Senate compromise that drops the House version of the public option. "What I have said, as I have always said to our members: Give the Senate room. I said that about the President. Give the President room, give the Senate room. But we honestly have had no paper on this. And probably we will know a great deal more when the paper comes back from the Congressional Budget Office. But between their bill and our bill, I know one thing for sure, we will have a great bill when we put them together," she said.

In the hallway outside the press briefing, Pelosi was asked about a Senate plan that would have the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) oversee national private plans instead of a public plan. "Let's see what it is. It might come as a surprise," she said. "We haven't seen the paper from the Senate. There is certainly a great deal of appeal about putting people 55 and older on Medicare. That's something people in the House have advocated for for years."

On Tuesday, passionate public-option backer Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) said he was happy with what he'd heard of the Senate deal.

"Now, I need more clarification of what the other plan is--the OPM plan--Office of Personnel Management," said Pelosi. "But we've also said, if you want something like what the members of Congress have, this might bear some resemblance to the federal employee plan. I don't know, because I haven't seen it and I don't like to comment on what I haven't seen."

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