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McCaskill to GOP: Quit Being Party of "No"

(CBS)
It's rare for senators to meet on a Sunday . . . rarer still for the president to join them. But they were all on Capitol Hill yesterday, because Democrats — determined to get a vote by the holidays — are still divided over one key issue: government-backed coverage.

"Trying to get consensus," said Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev. "We're not there."

Three Democrats (Sen. Blanche Lincoln or Arkansas, Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, and Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska) and one Independent (Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut) are holding firm against a government-run public insurance option.

So liberals are now plying them with alternatives, such as a national insurance plan, run initially by the government but then handed over to not-for-profit administrators.

Negotiations have reached such a fever pitch, CBS News correspondent Nancy Cordes reports, that the president himself trekked up to Capitol Hill yesterday to give his fellow Democrats what he called a "pep talk" at a meeting of the Democratic caucus.

"Hey, guys. Good to see ya!" the president said.

As far as changing minds, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said on CBS' "The Early Show" today that "I think we're getting there." But she also said that there is no alternative.

"Failure is not an option," she told anchor Maggie Rodriguez. "The American people are tired of having to go in their pocket every year for higher and higher health costs. This is about saving money, this is about saving lives, and it's about saving Medicare. So we've got to get this done and I'm optimistic it's going to happen.

"Doing nothing is simply not an option — it's one the American people can't afford."

She also accused Republicans of acting as obstructionists.

"I wish the Republicans would quit being the party of 'No' and come together with us," she said. "There's a lot in this bill that they wrote. They don't acknowledge that now, but there [are] a lot of Republican amendments that were put in this bill in committee. Let's start working together. That's what the American people want us to do."

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., rejected the suggestion that his party's opposition to the bill was not contributing constructively to the process of reforming the health care system.

"We have done it every single day," Alexander replied. "We said we should set a goal reducing costs and we should go step-by-step toward that goal in ways that we can agree on in a bipartisan way. For example, small business health insurance plans, allowing people to buy insurance across state lines to create competition, reducing the amount of junk lawsuits against doctors, which is not even mentioned in the bill.

"I think the American people are scared to death of us trying to change the whole medical system all at once when, in fact, we could go step-by-step in the right direction, reduce cost, [and] re-earn their trust."

He then accused Democrats of working to destroy the health care coverage of the elderly.

"The biggest problem is that the Democrats are using Medicare as a piggybank to pay for a big, new government program, using Grandma's Medicare to pay for insurance for someone else, at a time when the Medicare trustees instead the program is about to go broke," he said.

Alexander charged that, instead of reducing health care premiums by expanding coverage choices for consumers and reducing inefficiencies and waste, as the Democrats claim, "it allows premiums to increase, it raises taxes, it cuts Medicare, transfers big expenses to Missouri and Tennessee and other states, and it does nothing to reduce the cost of health care, which is what we need to do."

CBSNews.com Special Report: Health Care

McCaskill disputed Alexander's claims. "First of all, the experts at Medicare say this bill as it stands today will lengthen the life of Medicare for at least five years," she said. "And all we're cutting here are the level of profits of the insurance companies."

She also accused Republicans of working on amendments that only benefit the profit margins of insurance companies: "That's part of the problem here: We don't have an open and competitive market for people who are trying to fight these insurance companies for their health care."

And while Democrats may find little consensus with Republicans on the subject, today a new complication emerges, from their own side of the aisle: . It's similar to the amendment that divided Democrats in the House a couple of weeks ago, and has the potential to do the same thing in the Senate.

While federal money is currently barred by law from being used to fund abortions, the Nelson amendment goes further by barring federally subsidized health insurance plans from coverage for abortion services, even if the procedures were paid for by customers' private funds.

"Frankly, I think that goes too far," McCaskill said. "So I think the majority of the Senate will oppose this amendment and leave the current law in place: no federal money for abortion services."

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