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Senate Finance Committee Rejects Public Insurance Option

BY Lea Winerman  September 29, 2009 at 5:26 PM EDT

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.; Getty Images

Rockefeller argued that a public plan is necessary to provide competition for private insurance companies.

“I feel so strongly about this because it makes so much sense,” Rockefeller said. “The people who I represent need this…because they’re helpless in front of the insurance companies.”

But Republicans called the amendment the first step toward an entirely government-run system.

“A government run plan will ultimately force private insurers out of business,” said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.

Carrie Budoff Brown, who covers health care reform for Politico, says that the outcome was expected. She spoke to the NewsHour before the committee voted on the bill. Listen to her discuss the day’s events and public plan proponents’ strategy:

Five Democrats joined all ten Republicans on the committee to vote against the amendment. Eight Democrats voted for it.

All of the bills approved by the other House and Senate committees crafting health care reform legislation — the Senate Health Committee and a tri-committee House bill — do include a public option.

But Senate Finance Committee Max Baucus, D-Mont., has said he is aiming to craft a bill that could garner a filibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senate, and that a bill with a public option could not gain that much support.

The committee is scheduled to hear debate and vote on one more public plan amendment this afternoon, by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

That amendment is not expected to pass either. However, public plan proponents hope that airing their arguments will help their case in final negotiations over a bill on the Senate floor, and later, when legislators work to merge the House and Senate versions of a bill.