Public Option No More? Obama Throws Weight Behind New Health Care Deal

Obama Health Care

A Senate deal worked out behind closed doors that would nix the "public option" got the green light from President Obama and could gain broad support in the health care debate, although details remain murky.

Obama today threw his weight behind the Senate health care deal, hailing the "critical progress" lawmakers made on a "creative new framework that I believe will help pave the way for final passage and a historic achievement on behalf of the American people.

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"I support this effort," the president said today.

Instead of a new government-run insurance program supported by liberal Democrats, the new Senate proposal would expand Medicare and allow people ages 55 to 64 to buy into the program, starting in 2011.

It would also give people the option to purchase private insurance from a national non-profit insurance program that would be overseen by the Office of Personnel Management, which supervises the health plan that's offered to federal employees and members of Congress.

There were also rumblings that a public option, supported by liberal Democrats, would kick in if the national plan failed.

Democrats will suspend the health care debate on the Senate floor at 5 p.m. today and move to a special, closed-door meeting to discuss their thus-far secret plan.

Many questions remain about what the deal -- crafted by 10 senators -- would entail. But it is already gaining some support among senators who had been skeptical of a public option.

Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who threatened to filibuster with Republicans if the bill contained a public option, said today he is encouraged by the deal but would oppose the trigger provision.

"I am encouraged by the progress toward a consensus on proposals to send to the Congressional Budget Office to review," Lieberman said in a written statement. "My opposition to a government-run insurance option, including any option with a trigger, has been clear for months and remains my position today.

"It is my understanding that at this point there is no legislative language so I look forward to analyzing the details of the plan and reviewing analysis from the Congressional Budget Office and the Office of the Actuary in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid," he added.

Republicans, meanwhile, dismissed Democrats' tentative agreement on a potential way around the public option.

"I don't think it's relevant to the core of the measure," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said. "The core of the measure is a job-killing bill, even if they change something around the edges."

McConnell also pointed to cuts in future Medicare spending on which the bill relies, arguing that because the program is projected to operate at a deficit within seven years, the savings should be used to help Medicare, not extend insurance to more Americans.

"The last thing you want to think about when the Titanic is sinking is to put grandma and more of your family on the boat and that really is what this administration is trying to do," Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said.

Some Democrats have also expressed skepticism about the deal, saying the majority of party members had wanted the public option.

"One of the ideas that's been kicked around is to have some kind of public option as a back up," Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., told reporters today. "I don't know yet. I have some concerns myself -- the public option under the majority leader saves. Are we going to lose those savings?"

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