While conservative members of the Democratic caucus threaten to block passage of health care reform if it includes a public health insurance option, a growing chorus of liberal lawmakers are making similar threats if the bill doesn't have one.
Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont who caucuses with Democrats, said in a statement on Sunday that the bill must have a strong public option to win his vote.
"I strongly suspect that there are a number of senators, including myself, who would not support final passage without a strong public option," he said. Not supporting final passage, however, is different than vowing to filibuster it and prevent it from even getting to a vote on final passage, as independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut is now doing, hoping to strip the public option.
But Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said on Saturday night that if the bill bends toward the conservatives, "You'll lose people on the left."
One of those could be Roland Burris (D-Ill.), who said Saturday he'd oppose any bill without a public option. "I won't vote for it," he said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said on Saturday night, after the health care bill passed a major legislative hurdle by a party-line, landslide 60-39 vote, that Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.) are working on crafting a public option compromise that could garner 60 votes.
On Sunday, Schumer predicted that the public option would survive and wind up in the final bill that goes to the president's desk.
Sanders, who self-identifies as a democratic socialist, said that democracy should triumph in the Senate. "The overwhelming majority of Americans want to be able to choose between a strong public option and a private insurance plan. Without that competition, there is very little in this bill that would keep health insurance premiums from escalating rapidly," Sanders said. "This legislation cannot simply be a huge subsidy to private insurance companies that will get millions of new customers and be able to raise their rates as high as they want."
UPDATE: Schumer's spokesman Brian Fallon says that the talks Reid mentioned are not underway, but could be. "Leading up to [Saturday]'s vote, some senators expressed a desire to discuss the public option currently in the Senate bill. Of course, Senator Schumer did not rule that out. But no such talks have yet taken place, and there is not any compromise at hand beyond what Leader Reid has already inserted into the bill. Senator Schumer remains a strong proponent of the opt-out, level playing field public option," said Fallon.