Watch CBSN Live

4 Dem Senators Pressure Reid to Use Reconciliation for Public Option

Four Democratic senators, including two facing potentially challenging election campaigns this year, are asking Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to use reconciliation, a procedural maneuver requiring only 51 votes, to push for a public health insurance option.

Sens. Michael Bennet (Colo.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and Jeff Merkley (Ore.) signed a letter to Reid saying they support this plan for four reasons: the cost savings the public option is estimated to achieve, continued public support for the public option, the need for increased competition in the insurance market and the Senate's history of using the reconciliation process for health care reform.

"Put simply, including a strong public option is one of the best, most fiscally responsible ways to reform our health insurance system," the letter says. "Although we strongly support the important reforms made by the Senate-passed health reform package, including a strong public option would improve both its substance and the public's perception of it."

The letter points to the last CBS News/ New York Times poll that surveyed Americans on the public option, from Dec. 2009, which showed that 59 percent of Americans supported the public option.

Throughout the health care debate, Democratic leaders resisted using reconciliation for fear that bypassing a Republican filibuster would appear too partisan. The letter points out that the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Medicare Advantage, and the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA) were all enacted under reconciliation.

In this month's CBS News/ New York Times poll, 37 percent of Americans said Congress was more responsible than President Obama for failing to pass health care reform. Half of Americans, meanwhile, said the filibuster -- which requires 60 senators to approve a bill -- should not stay in place, while 44 percent said it should.

The advocacy groups the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Democracy for America, as well as Credo Action, the grassroots political arm of the for-profit company CREDO Mobile, are promoting the letter and calling on citizens to become signatories online.

"Every day, it becomes increasingly clear that the best way to 'fix' the original Senate bill is to pass the highly popular public option through reconciliation," the groups said in a statement. "It's the populist reform that the House will need in order to pass both bills together and the key change Democratic and Independent voters will need in order to believe in health care reform again and show up in 2010."

Bennet, who was appointed to his seat after Ken Salazar joined the Obama administration, will have to face voters this fall in what the independent Cook Political Report labels a "toss up" race. Before Bennet faces a Republican challenger, however, he will face a primary challenge from former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, who won the endorsement of two of Colorado's largest labor organizations.

Gillibrand has also been pushed to the left by the threat of primary challengers. She now faces a possible challenge from former Rep. Harold Ford.