As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) aims this week to secure the votes of moderate Democrats on health care reform, a group of liberal senators Monday warned him not to abandon the public insurance option.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who requested the meeting with Reid, said progressives believe they have compromised enough on the public option - from a Medicare-for-all proposal to Reid's proposal to create a national government plan with a provision for states to opt-out.
"Most of us in the caucus want a strong public option, support the Reid way of doing it," Brown said. "And we're confident that over time, as the debate unfolds and we take amendment after amendment after amendment, that we can get 60 votes."
He acknowledged several moderates need convincing, but said there is little willingness among progressives to back down.
The meeting served as another reminder that the public option remains a dividing line among Democrats. Even if Reid is able to convince moderates, including Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), to vote with Democrats on a procedural motion to begin debate, the caucus faces a fierce floor fight over the shape of the public plan.
A Senate aide said there were plans to discuss passing the health care bill through a procedural maneuver known as reconciliation - which favored by progressive activists because it would allow Democrats to circumvent the 60-vote filibuster threshold. A majority of the Democratic caucus supports the public option, and only 51 senators would be needed to approve the legislation under reconciliation.
But following the hour-long meeting, senators declined to say whether reconciliation was discussed.
"You need to talk with the majority leader," Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said.
Schumer said the point of the meeting was "very smple. There is a large number of members who feel very strongly about the public option and how we can achieve it. There's also among everyone in that room and everyone in the caucus a desire we have to get a bill, so the question is how do you reconcile both goals."
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), a moderate, attended the meeting as well, telling reporters afterwards that some compromise would be necessary.
"They wanted to talk about the importance of the public option being in the bill, which I understand," Baucus said. "But the main point is that we must pass health care reform hopefully by the end of this year. But we must pass it."
"I made the point that 60 votes is kind of a blessing and it's a curse," Baucus continued. "The curse side is it's kind of hard to get 60. The blessing side is everybody, every one of those 60 senators knows that we must pass health care reform. So there's a strong driver there to find that solution, to find that compromise to find some way to find a solution that bridges the gap between those who strongly want the public option and the few senators on the other side who do not. There are always ways to find solutions here."