Schumer Says Reconciliation Still An Option, Confident That Public Option (Or Something Like It) Will Prevail

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Breaking his silence today, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told reporters that Democrats won’t hesitate to pass reform legislation as part of October’s filibuster-proof budget reconciliation bill–if, that is, Max Baucus and Senate Finance Committee negotiators don’t come to agreement on a bipartisan package before their new September 15 deadline. Schumer said he wants a bipartisan agreement, but if that proves impossible, “it is not going to stop us from moving forward with health care.”

“[W]e will have contingencies in place,” Schumer said “Health reform is just too important to let this window pass by.”

Schumer’s been the public face for the idea of creating a public option on a level playing field with private insurers. But he’s also the chairman of the Rules Committee, and in that regard his affirmation of the reconciliation process should carry a great deal of weight.

Still, he says, he’d prefer a bipartisan solution. And on the question of those negotiations, Schumer says that despite the fact that the Senate Finance Committee is likely to endorse a co-op system instead of a public option, he’s confident that the final bill will contain the latter.“I’m not going to settle for something that just is a fig leaf,” Schumer said, noting that “negotiations are are not at all finished yet, so we’ll have to see.”

Once the Finance Committee settles on something, though, Schumer said the real fight will come later.

“[T]here will be fights on the Senate floor,” Schumer said.

The HELP Committee is an equal committee to the Finance Committee. They have a good public option. The House has a public option much along the lines that I laid out originally in terms of the level playing field. The President is for a public option. So I’m optimistic that there will be a good, strong public option at the end of the day.

Schumer also acknowledged, though, that the public option…might not be so public. “I’ve said this time and time again, I don’t care what you call it,” he said. “As long as you meet the criteria of being available to every American, being available on the first day and being strong enough so that the option will be able to go up against both the big insurance companies and the big suppliers.” That leaves open the possibility that he could support, and Congress might settle upon, a private co-op system as long as it accomplished some of the public option’s key goals.

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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