Are Pro-Public Option Senators Mourning The Loss Of The Medicare Buy In?

December 14, 2009 2:46 p.m.

Joe Lieberman is the man of the hour. But though he’s threatening to filibuster the Democrats’ health care bill, he did not speak at an impromptu caucus meeting on the legislation this evening. Perhaps that’s because he appears to have won this round: The Medicare buy-in–the key feature of a public option compromise reached tentatively last week–is now being discussed in the past tense by some of its most ardent proponents.

One member who did speak, according to a source briefed on the meeting, was Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA), who offered an impassioned plea. “Don’t let these obstructionists win,” Specter reportedly said. “I came to this caucus to be your 60th vote.” His words were met with a loud applause, which was audible through the doors of the LBJ room, and down the hall toward the Senate chamber.

But that applause may belie the reality–that the chief items on the Democrats’ wish list appear to be dead or dying. The public option is gone from the Senate bill. The Medicare buy-in, which was supposed to take its place, is on life support at best.Walking in to the meeting, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) was asked whether the buy-in, and a triggered public option would be stripped from the compromise.

“[L]ooks that way,” Harkin said. “There’s enough good in this bill that even without those two.”

After the meeting, Senators were largely mum about what was discussed. But neither of two public option enthusiasts–Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH)–had much positive to say.

“I want to see health care reform,” Brown said. “There’s going to be a good bill.”

Rockefeller wouldn’t discuss the Medicare buy-in.

“I can’t answer that, obviously, and I think I probably shouldn’t,” Rockefeller said.

Rockefeller said that the hours he spent negotiating with nine other senators on the public option compromise, which now seems mostly out of play, were worth it. “Absolutely,” he said.

So is it real reform without a Medicare buy-in?

“The answer to that is yes. Is it perfect reform? The answer to that is no. But does it help the people where I come from? Yes.

“500 things [in this bills] and you take one out and say, well, without that is this really reform. Could it have been better? Yeah. But it could’ve been so much worse if we’d just decided not to do anything because we didn’t get everything we wanted.”

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