Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) told reporters Wednesday that he "would prefer we had a strong public option" in the health care reform package he is shepherding through the Senate health committee. But, he said, he was open to other ideas.
The committee released its health care bill on Tuesday, which did not include the details of a public plan, causing alarm among reformers who worried that Democrats were caving already.
Dodd's comments to reporters won't do much to reduce that anxiety.
"We're shopping, that's why we left that out," said Dodd.
Asked if he was backing off his commitment to the public option, which in the past he called crucial, he said that he was not. "Tom just said it well," said Dodd, referring to Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who had just expressed strong support for a nationally available, robust, publicly sponsored health care option, but had said there are many different ways of achieving it.
Dodd went on: "There are a lot of ways to skin a cat. I want the cat skinned. How you skin it, I'm open to listen to some ideas. But the cat will get skinned."
Dodd is leading the push through the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee because the chairman, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) has largely been absent, fighting brain cancer.
In a follow up interview with the Huffington Post, Dodd was asked again if he was backing off the public plan.
"No, no, I don't think that -- people are misconstruing. No, no, it's not backing off it. There's so many different ways of doing this, achieving the same results," Dodd said. "Words and language and branding can have the predictable effect, and I think you're seeing a lot of that without people really examining,' What do you mean by that?' 'How can this work?'"
The aim is the same for everyone, Dodd said, an efficient and affordable system.
The bill is complicated by the fact that both the health and finance committees are working on separate bills that will be combined into one eventually. That one bill could be dropped in as a new amendment, he said.
"It's going to be one bill. And so we're talking about how do you do that," he said. "Maybe it could end up being an amendment on the floor, I don't know."
Dodd said that he was aware that there was anxiety among liberals about the lack of details in the committee bill. He said the bill was introduced for "discussion purposes."
He added that he was "required to submit legislation under our committee rules."
He also wanted to blunt criticism that there was no language over which to negotiate. "In effect the complaint was for some time, 'We need to see legislative language. Talking about policy issues doesn't tell us what you really want to do.' So not only did my rules require it, but I was responding as well to a desire to have something they could actually see language about. When you're talking about prevention, what's the language? So now there is legislative language, and that's we're beginning to discuss, what are your options, what are your ideas, how do we work on this together."
Dodd attributed the strange cat metaphor to President Obama, saying he used in during a meeting with Dodd and other senators on Wednesday.
"Well, he wants the concept of what we're talking about and I think he likes the public option, but the point is there are a lot of ways to achieve that," said Dodd.