Key Democratic Senators Correct Lieberman On The Public Option

Key public option supporters in the Senate Democratic Caucus pushed back today on different objections raised by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) to the idea of including a public option in health care reform.

“I think one of the problems the leader is working through…is that there have been a number of theories about what a public option is that have been kicked around,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) in response to a question from TPMDC. “On the Senate side, in the [HELP] Committee, we chose to…make sure that these public options were self sustaining.”

Lieberman has suggested both that the public option would be a drain on taxpayers, and that it would drive up private insurance premiums, in contrast to the findings of most experts.

“I think there’s a bit of a function of trying to make sure that everybody’s clear exactly what it is that we’re proposing,” Whitehouse said. “I think once the actual text of the bill is out and it’s clear that the HELP language is what was adopted. I think we’ll be successfully able to make the case to Senator Lieberman that there is not a subsidy here and it is not an entitlement.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) added his own two cents as well.“Any low income, or moderate income person coming into the exchange brings a subsidy…you can take the subsidy and buy Aetna, you can take that subsidy to buy the public option. So the public option gets nothing better or worse…than any private company that’s involved in the exchange,” Brown said.

Lieberman made big news yesterday when he said that he’d be inclined to filibuster a health care bill if, at the end of a long amendment process, it still includes a public option. Asked by a different reporter if his potential defection lends credence to the idea that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid ought to have chosen a more moderate course, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) leapt to Reid’s defense.

“We are working with leader Reid on getting 60 votes… I am optimistic that we will get those 60 votes,” Schumer said. Harry Reid is the best vote counter and vote getter that I have ever seen in my 35 years as a legislator.”