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Reid Threatens to Put Public Option Back on the Table

By CQ Staff

Feb. 19, 2010 -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Friday issued a warning to Republicans not to obstruct Democrats' latest efforts to enact a health care overhaul, by threatening to use expedited budget reconciliation rules to force a vote on legislation that includes a public insurance option.

Reid ruled out including a public option in a Senate health bill in December, after centrists in his caucus voiced concerns that the plan would give the federal government too great of a role in a reconfigured health care system. The public plan would essentially serve as a government-run insurance option that competes against private health plans.

But on Friday, Reid's office issued a statement indicating the public plan was back on the table.

"Senator Reid has always and continues to support the public option as a way to drive down costs and create competition. That is why he included the measure in his original health care proposal," read a statement from spokesman Rodell Mollineau. "If a decision is made to use reconciliation to advance health care, Senator Reid will work with the White House, the House, and members of his caucus in an effort to craft a public option that can overcome procedural obstacles and secure enough votes."

The warning came just six days before President Obama hosts a bipartisan health care summit at the White House, and before the Obama administration is due to post a draft health bill that will serve as a starting point for discussions. That bill is not expected to include a public option.

Senate Republicans are unified in their opposition to the public option — and some Democratic centrists have also ruled out voting for any overhaul plan that contains the proposal. But by using reconciliation rules, Reid would only need 50 votes, assuming Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. would cast the tie-breaking vote.

It's unclear whether Reid has commitments from 50 senators to act under those circumstances.

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