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Schumer: Final Health Bill Will Have a ‘Robust’ Public Option

Washington’s prognosticators have all but written off a strong public option as part of the health reforms working their way through Congress. But don’t tell that to Sen. Charles Schumer. The New York Democrat went out on a limb Thursday evening, telling reporters that a “strong, robust” public plan will be included in whatever final bill is signed by the president.

“Don’t count it out,” Schumer said.

On Friday, the Senate Finance Committee will meet in another of the week’s marathon sessions to mark up the panel’s health reform proposal, sponsored by Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.). That bill doesn’t have a public option — pushing privately run health care cooperatives instead — but both Schumer and Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) are hoping to change that via the amendment process. Those proposals are unlikely to pass the Finance Committee, where several Democrats have voiced a reluctance to accept the public option. But Schumer pointed out that finance panel is more conservative than the Senate as a whole, which in turn is more conservative than the House. He meant that there are plenty of opportunities for the public option down the road if the committee shoots down the proposals tomorrow.

“This is the starting gate,” Schumer said.

Both Schumer and Rockefeller ruled out the co-op model as an alternative, claiming it simply won’t provide the competition needed to force private insurers to keep rates affordable. Rockefeller also went after the trigger model, saying, “I’m not a big fan of triggers, because triggers won’t work.”

Rockefeller also chastised those who have written off the public option as a part of the larger reforms. “Don’t fall victim to this feeling that this is not going to happen,” Rockefeller said. “You’re creating a problem for us.”

Neither senator would say that he’d hinge his support for the final bill on whether a strong public option is included. “We don’t want to draw any lines in the sand,” Schumer said.

But Rockefeller implied that he won’t have to make that choice. “We’re going to have some form of public option in the final bill,” he predicted.

Prepare for fireworks tomorrow.

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