Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid held a press conference today to announce that the Senate health care reform bill will include an opt-out public option. Here's the full transcript, via Congressional Quarterly:
REID: Good afternoon, everyone.
The last two weeks has been a great opportunity to work with the White -- White House, Senators Dodd and Baucus on this critical issue of reforming our health insurance system.
We've had productive, meaningful discussions about how to craft the strongest bill, the strongest bill coming from a meld of the two bills, the HELP bill and the Finance bill.
I feel good about the consensus that was reached within our caucus and with the White House. And we're all optimistic about reform because of the unprecedented momentum that now exists.
Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus, who was reportedly none too pleased when he learned that Harry Reid was leaning towards putting a public option in the Senate's health care bill, is now singing a much more positive tune. "It is time to make our system work better for patients and providers, for small business owners and for our economy. It is time for health care reform," Baucus said.
For more than a year, we've been working to meet the goals of reducing the growth of health care costs, improving quality and efficiency and expanding coverage. There are a tremendous number of complicated issues that go into reform and the public option is certainly one of them. I included a public option in the health reform blueprint I released nearly one year ago, and continue to support any provision, including a public option, that will ensure choice and competition and get the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate. Success should be our threshold and I am going to fight hard for the 60 votes we need to meet that goal this year.
There's still some wiggle room there. (Will Baucus help twist arms to get to 60?) But he seems to be implying that he thinks the public option plus opt-out can clear the threshold--and that's the first clear statement of his abstract support for the provision in quite some time.
Bill Owens, the Democratic candidate in the three-way NY-23 special election, has a TV ad in which he casts both of his two opponents, moderate Republican Dede Scozzafava and Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman, as advocates for George W. Bush's tax cuts for the rich.
"I'm opposed to raising taxes on the middle class or small business in any way," says Owens. "But I think we should get of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. My two opponents both want to keep those tax cuts for the wealthy, even though they would add $500 billion to the deficit."
This race has been dominated by the split in Republican ranks, between Scozzafava and Hoffman, which would seemingly hand Owens the win. However, Owens' challenge is to maintain his own profile and contrast himself against the other two, in order to avoid being overlooked by the voters.
Americans United for Change released this statement about Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's announcement today about the Senate health care reform bill:
Tom McMahon, acting executive director, Americans United for Change: "Over the last several weeks, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was forced to choose between the urgent need that everyday Americans have competitive choices when they buy health insurance or the insurance industry pressure to maintain its stranglehold on our health care.
"Senator Reid's announcement that the Senate health care bill will include a public health insurance option, shows that he has refused to buckle in the face of withering pressure from the big insurance companies and sided instead with everyday health care consumers."
"The President congratulates Senator Reid and Chairmen Baucus and Dodd for their hard work on health insurance reform. Thanks to their efforts, we're closer than we've ever been to solving this decades-old problem. And while much work remains, the President is pleased that at the progress that Congress has made. He's also pleased that the Senate has decided to include a public option for health coverage, in this case with an allowance for states to opt out. As he said to Congress and the nation in September, he supports the public option because it has the potential to play an essential role in holding insurance companies accountable through choice and competition."
Speaking to reporters on Air Force One today, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) said he would support either a trigger or an opt-out public option.
Nelson, who was traveling with President Obama to events in Florida this afternoon, added that states should be required to be part of the public option for at least two years before getting the chance to opt out.
If they can opt out right away, "the insurance lobbyists will just convince state legislatures to opt out and as a result you won't get the benefits of competition to see if in fact the competition is there," he said.
"It will be hard for the states to opt out if the rates have been brought low by the public option," he added.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has released this statement, on Harry Reid's announcement of a public option proposal that includes an opt-out mechanism for states:
"Leader Reid has always been a strong supporter of a public option that could help keep the insurers honest, and today he showed just how deep his commitment is. The public option has new life because as Americans have learned more about it, they have come to see it is the best way to reduce costs and increase competition in the health insurance industry. This form of public option is not exactly what either liberals or moderates would want. But a public plan based on a level playing field, with an opt-out for states, is the best compromise that has the potential of getting 60 votes in the Senate."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced what we've been reporting today - the merged health care bill will include a public option allowing states to opt-out.
"Under this concept states will be able to determine whether the public option works best for them," Reid told reporters. He said it was the "fairest" way to go.
Reid (D-NV) said after "countless hours" of talking to his caucus, there is a "strong consensus" for this plan. He said he will not submit a plan with a triggered public option to the Congressional Budget Office.
"As we've gone through this process, I've concluded, with the support of the White House and Senators. Dodd and Baucus, that the best way to move forward is to include a public option with an opt out provision for states," Reid said.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN), a potential presidential candidate in 2012, has now endorsed Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman in the NY-23 special election -- passing over his party's actual nominee, moderate Republican Dede Scozzafava.
"We cannot send more politicians to Washington who wear the Republican jersey on the campaign trail, but then vote like Democrats in Congress on issues like card check and taxes. After reviewing the candidates' positions, I'm endorsing Doug Hoffman in New York's special election. Doug understands the federal government needs to quit spending so much, will vote against tax increases, and protect key values like the right to vote in private in union elections."
Pawlenty is the second possible GOP presidential candidate to pick the Conservative over the Republican, following Sarah Palin's endorsement of Hoffman late last week. Newt Gingrich has been vocally supporting Scozzafava, and catching a lot of flak on the right as a result.