Pelosi Comes Out Swinging For The Public Option

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Speaking at her weekly press conference just off the House floor moments ago, Speaker Nancy Pelosi made her most impassioned argument in weeks, for including a public option in comprehensive health care reform legislation, arguing against the idea, favored by some conservative Democrats, of mandating that people buy health insurance, and then throwing them into what she called the “lion’s den” of the private insurance industry.

In so doing, Pelosi came closer than any member of the Democratic leadership has thusfar to suggesting that the individual mandate should be conditional on the inclusion of a public option. Pelosi did not elaborate, when pressed by TPMDC, on whether Congress would revisit the individual mandate if the public option can’t survive the Senate. But her implication was fairly clear.

The House, she said, “will not force America’s middle income families to negotiate with insurance companies.”

Health care experts agree that health insurance market reforms can not work unless everybody is in the risk pool–and that means a mandate. But privately, many activists and experts believe that a strong individual mandate is also a gift to the insurance industry, and that it should be used as a bargaining chip to secure other robust measures, such as the public option.Pelosi declined to comment on the uncertainty about the public option in the Senate, but said her goal was to make sure that the House has as much leverage as possible when House and Senate negotiators meet to iron out differences between the bills in conference.

“I want to send our conferees to the table with the most muscle for America’s middle class,” she said.

This is about going into that room and coming out with the best coverage and the lowest cost for America’s working families. I believe that that is best achieved by going to the table with the public option. I believe that the arguments are very convincing, public support is there, and, by the way, the dollars. The robust public option that is being considered in the House saves $110 billion. How can you ignore that?

Pelosi said that House health care leaders will make a decision about whether to endorse a Medicare-like public option in “the next few days.” In that time, the House will ask the CBO to evaluate the savings potential of three different public option proposals, and make a final determination based on the results.

Like a number of Democrats in the Senate, Pelosi jumped on the insurance industry’s recent anti-reform actions, including a discredited AHIP report the industry propagated to raise unfounded doubts about the impact a health care overhaul will have on insurance premiums.

“Anyone who had any doubts about the need for such an option need only look at the…health insurance industry this week. They put out a report on health insurance reform–specifically addressed to the Senate bill–which has been totally discredited…and then later in the week, in order to change the subject I guess, they launched a more than $1,000,000 TV ad campaign to falsely tell America’s seniors that they would be hurt by what happens to Medicare in the health reform bills.”

Pelosi didn’t go so far as to predict that the bill President Obama signs will include a public option–and she even suggested that at points along the way the name and design of the government insurance plan might change. But she repeated, definitively, that the House’s package will be strong on that score.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brian Beutler is TPM’s senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he’s led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at brian@talkingpointsmemo.com

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