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Obama May Drop Health Plan's 'Public Option'

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Obama May Drop Health Plan's 'Public Option'

Health Care

Obama May Drop Health Plan's 'Public Option'

Obama May Drop Health Plan's 'Public Option'

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Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has signaled the Obama administration is willing to make a deal on a key part of the health care plan that the president has been pushing. Sebelius told CNN on Sunday that the White House would be open to consumer-owned nonprofit co-ops instead of the public insurance plan. The co-ops would operate under a national structure with state affiliates, but independent of the government.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Lets talk about the legislative give and take now with NPRs Cokie Roberts who joins us for analysis most Mondays. Cokie, good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: We talked, at the top, about Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, and this discussion of maybe dropping the so-called public option. Whats happening here?

ROBERTS: Well that proposal for a government-financed insurance plan to compete with private plans has been absolutely one of the most controversial aspects of this health care proposal. And over the weekend, she was just one of several administration officials who signaled a willingness to drop that public option. Here she is, speaking on CNN State of the Union.

Ms. KATHLEEN SEBELIUS (Secretary, Health and Human Services): I think whats important is choice and competition. And Im convinced, at the end of the day, the plan will have both of those. But that is not the essential element.

ROBERTS: The secretary showed an openness to one of these nonprofit cooperative plans, like states have fair plans for wind and for fire, instead of that government-financed option.

INSKEEP: Oh, Senator Kent Conrad, whos one of the key players here, has been talking about these co-ops. Thats what theyre saying they might go with?

ROBERTS: And he has been saying for a long time, that the public option is just not, you know, not going to happen; give it up. And he did that against yesterday on Fox News Sunday.

INSKEEP: Well, now, has the opposition from Republicans - the quite dramatic opposition in town hall meetings and so forth - affected the administration in recent weeks.

ROBERTS: Well, you know, Republicans have been talking about all of this, but Democrats have been skittish as well. And as we said, as Senator Conrad is one of those, hes been supporting this cooperative idea. Hes also warned that He just warned yesterday that there might not be a bill ready by September 15th, that this process could drag on through the fall.

Look, Democrats, you know, are looking at the voters are worrying about them, particularly in two states, Steve - Virginia and New Jersey - where the governors races this year are showing Democrats in trouble. So, its not just Republicans who are dragging their feet here on this public option; its Democrats as well.

INSKEEP: Well, lets listen to what Kent Conrad had to say - you referred to him earlier. Lets listen to Kent Conrad on Fox News Sunday, talking about the legislative realities.

Senator KENT CONRAD (Democrat, North Dakota): The fact of the matter is there are not the votes in the United States Senate for the public option; there never have been. So, to continue to chase that rabbit, I think, is just a wasted effort.

INSKEEP: But let me try to figure this out, because Conrads trying to get votes for this. Republicans, though, are thinking about the public policy implications of this and, of course, as you also mentioned, thinking about the politics of this. There are elections coming up. Are Republicans going to be any happier with this other version of trying to increase competition with health insurance companies if it means something might actually pass?

ROBERTS: Well, theyve made favorable noises about it, but health care has been a moving target for Republicans, Steve. The Democrats will shift, think they have something the Republicans will go for, and then the Republicans shift further. And they make a big deal about something that distracts and frightens the voters like those so-called death panels, then the Democrats drop that and Republicans find something else to object to.

So, well see what they do in the long run about these co-ops.

INSKEEP: What about President Obamas core supporters? Theyve been pretty militant - I think thats a fair word - in saying that there must be a public option.

ROBERTS: And they are very unhappy about the idea - were talking here, of course, about liberal Democrats - about the idea that there would be dropping the public option. But, look, in the long run, if that is the bill that comes up for a vote in both the House and the Senate, the Democrats would go along.

You know, and I remember when George H.W. Bush was president, facing Democratic majorities in Congress, and he would veto a bill, and Republicans who had originally voted for the legislation would then vote to sustain the veto, because it was terribly important to them that the president stay strong. And thats the case for Democrats of all stripes now. Even though they will grumble and be unhappy and try to shape the legislation as best they can, they will go along with a health care plan backed by the president.

INSKEEP: Cokie, always good to hear from you. Thats

ROBERTS: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPRs Cokie Roberts with analysis on this Monday morning.

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INSKEEP: Its MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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