One of the leading progressives in the United States Senate left the impression on Friday afternoon that he would oppose major health care reform if it did not include a public option for insurance coverage.
Speaking outside the White House following a meeting with President Barack Obama, Sen. Sherrod Brown would not go so far as to draw a line in the sand in terms of what legislation he could or could not support. But he made no secrets of where his sympathies and objections lie.
"I would have trouble voting for it without that," he said of a bill without a public plan. "I would have difficulty supporting any health care plan that doesn't keep the insurance companies honest. I appreciate now the... progress that we have made already that the insurance companies are wiling to accept real rules on preexisting conditions, on how we do community ratings, on all of those issues. But he doesn't think and I don't think that's enough. He thinks, as I do, that if you have some kind of public option, it could look like Medicare, it could be something different, some kind of option to keep the insurance industries honest..."
To date, most progressive figures in Congress have followed the president's lead in insisting that all options for health care reform are currently on the table. Part of the strategy, a congressional aide said, is to avoid having to roll back declarative statements. The White House could end up calculating that dropping a public plan is the only way to get legislation passed, after which Democratic lawmakers would feel the acute pressure to follow suit.
That said, outside government, progressive health care reform advocates are growing impatient, watching as congressional Republicans declare their full intention to oppose a public plan and wondering when and from where the political pushback will come. Earlier this week, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she didn't think Obama would have the votes to get a bill without a public option through Congress. That was a start. Brown's build upon that.
But, earlier on Friday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked if the president would not sign a bill "with nothing that even remotely resembles a public option."
"I don't think at this point we would draw quite that strong a red line," Gibbs responded. "But again, I think the President believes both in the campaign and in the letter that he sent sometime last week, when we were in Europe, but denoted that he thought it was extremely important to have, as I've said here, increased choice and competition. I think he believes that can be -- no pun intended -- a healthy part of a final plan."