By David Espo, AP Special Correspondent
WASHINGTON (AP) — In a long-anticipated showdown, liberal Democrats twice failed on Tuesday to inject a government-run insurance option into sweeping health care legislation taking shape in the Senate, despite bipartisan agreement that private insurers must change their ways.
The two votes marked a victory for Montana Democrat Max Baucus, the Senate Finance Committee chairman, who is hoping to push his middle-of-the-road measure through the panel by week's end. It also kept alive the possibility that at least one Republican may yet swing behind the overhaul, a key goal of both Baucus and the White House.
The developments occurred as Democrats in the House sought savings to reduce their companion legislation to roughly $900 billion over a decade, the price tag President Barack Obama has suggested.
One option under consideration would reduce the number of individuals and families eligible for federal health coverage subsidies to those earning less than 400% of poverty, or about $43,000 for a single person and $88,000 for a family of four, officials said, commenting only on condition of anonymity. The subsidies are designed to make insurance more affordable, and account for a significant percentage of spending in the bill.
Without disclosing any of the details of a marathon closed-door leadership meeting, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters, "It's hard work, but we're determined to get it (the bill's cost) down."
If anything, the health care debate was growing more intense. According to one independent organization, television advertising around the issue has been running at a level of more than $1.1 million a day for the past week and now stands more than $100 million since the beginning of the year.
Inside the Senate Finance Committee, Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said his proposal to allow the government to sell insurance in competition with private industry was far from the federal takeover that critics portray. "It's not. It's optional," he said, adding it was designed to offer competition and a lower-priced, reliable choice for consumers shopping for coverage.
"Washington is not the answer," countered Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.