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Finance Panel Duels Over Public Option

The Senate Finance Committee plunged into the battle over the public insurance option Tuesday, with the debate over the controversial issue crowding out consideration of the hundreds of other amendments filed against the panel’s health care reform package.Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) adjourned the markup for a noontime break with several Senators still wanting to speak on the public option proposal by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.). A vote on the Rockefeller amendment is expected later in the day.Baucus’ health care reform legislation calls for the creation of nonprofit medical cooperatives, rather than a public insurance option. The debate over Rockefeller’s amendment Tuesday was the first to feature a disagreement among panel Democrats.“I don’t understand why we wouldn’t want to do this,— Rockefeller said during the debate. “I feel so strongly about it because it makes so much sense.—“I favor an alternative I call the ‘public interest option,’— countered Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), in reference to the co-op proposal in Baucus’ bill. Conrad originally came up with the idea for the co-op.Meanwhile, the Republicans voiced their opposition to Rockefeller’s amendment, offering a preview of the debate that is likely to make its way to the Senate floor.Finance ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said a public insurance option would result in millions of Americans losing their private coverage and lead to a single-payer, government-run insurance system. Other Finance Republicans questioned the cost of the public insurance option, saying it would only add to the federal deficit.“A government-run plan is not the answer,— Grassley said.Following a vote on Rockefeller’s amendment, the Finance Committee is scheduled to consider a second public insurance option amendment by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). That proposal is co-sponsored by Democratic Sens. Jeff Bingaman (N.M.), Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), Bob Menendez (N.J.) and Maria Cantwell (Wash.).

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