Congressmen Restate Support for Public Option

(CBS/ Robert Hendin)
While President Obama may be signaling he is ready to sacrifice> the proposal to create a government-sponsored health insurance plan, or "public option," in the name of compromise, many congressmen said today that they are not.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus sent a letter (PDF) today to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius stating their opposition to her statement that the public option is "not the essential element" of health care reform. The letter says 60 members of the House of Representatives will only support a health reform bill with a public option.

"A robust public option is essential, if we are to ensure that all Americans can receive healthcare that is accessible, guaranteed and of high-quality," the letter says. "To take the public option off the table would be a grave error; passage in the House of Representatives depends upon inclusion of it. We have attached, for your review, a letter from 60 Members of Congress who are firm in their Position that any legislation that moves forward through both chambers, and into a final proposal for the President's signature, MUST contain a public option."

Liberals in the House have said taking the public option off the table would give the private insurance industry too much power.

"Leaving private insurance companies the job of controlling the costs of healthcare is like making a pyromaniac the fire chief," Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said Monday.

House Leadership reiterated its support for the public option as well.

"There is strong support in the House for a public option," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement today. "A public option is the best option to lower costs, improve the quality of health care, ensure choice and expand coverage."

While the Senate is expected to produce a more moderate health care bill, some senators also expressed their support for the public option.

"I believe the inclusion of a strong public plan option in health reform legislation is a must," said Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W.V.), a member of Senate Finance Committee. "It is the only proven way to guarantee that all consumers have affordable, meaningful and accountable options available in the health insurance marketplace."

Sen. Russ Feingold called the public option a "fundamental part" of ensuring change.

"I am not interested in passing health care reform in name only," he said in a statement. "Without a public option, I don't see how we will bring real change to a system that has made good health care a privilege for those who can afford it."

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), who has faced tough crowds in opposition to health care reform at recent town hall meetings, said today that "he is not willing to write off the public option."

Speaking at Drexel University, Specter said the public option "is the best approach to give people choices," the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

At a press briefing today, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said President Obama's preference would be to implement a public option in order to inject choice and competition into the health insurance market -- a point he made yesterday on Face the Nation.

Gibbs added today that there has been a "boring consistency" to the White House's rhetoric on the issue.

"Nothing has changed," he said. "We could go out and say nothing has changed, but that seems sort of silly since nothing's changed."