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Howard Dean: Scrap the Senate Health Bill

The Senate health care bill in its current form should be scrapped, former Democratic leader Howard Dean said in a radio interview.

"This is essentially the collapse of health care reform in the United States Senate," Dean told Vermont Public Radio. "Honestly the best thing to do right now is kill the Senate bill, go back to the House, start the reconciliation process, where you only need 51 votes and it would be a much simpler bill."

Dean's remarks are set to air today at 5:50 p.m., Greg Sargent confirms, just hours after President Obama said that the Senate is "on the precipice" of passing its health care bill. The president said there is "too much at stake" to let the reform effort fail.

The Senate health care debate stalled this weekend when Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) announced he could not go along with the Democrats' latest plan to expand Medicare to the middle-aged.

While Dean is a strong proponent of a government-run health insurance plan (or "public option") for all Americans, he told the CBS "Early Show" that the Medicare expansion plan represented "real reform." He is now reportedly saying that the bill is not worth salvaging if Democrats leave out both the public option and the Medicare expansion.

Mr. Obama, by contrast, said today that the bill still meets certain goals like controlling health care costs and expanding coverage. Dean said last week on the "Early Show" that "there's not much cost control in this bill."

Under the process of reconciliation that Dean is advocating, Democrats could overcome a Republican filibuster and pass a bill with just 51 votes. There may be enough senators in support of the public option to pass the measure via reconciliation.

The reconciliation process, however, is limited to bills that pertain to budgetary matters -- so while the Senate could use it for any provisions that impact the budget, they would have to pass other reforms, like insurance regulations, in a separate bill. Democratic leadership has indicated they are not interested in using reconciliation for health care reform.

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