Daschle Folds on Federal Public Health Care Plan

ABC News' Elizabeth Gorman reports:

In an attempt at bipartisanship, three former majority leaders of the U.S. Senate, Tom Daschle, Howard Baker, and Bob Dole, offered their solution today to the biggest obstacle to achieving health care reform -- a public option.

"While I feel very strongly that consumers should have the choice of a national, Medicare-like plan, my colleagues do not. . . But we were concerned that the ongoing health reform debate is beginning to show signs of fracture on the public plan issue, so in order to advance the process of developing bipartisan legislation and to move it forward, it's time to find consensus here," Daschle said.

"We've come too far and gained too much momentum for our efforts to fail over disagreements on one single issue," he said.

In a blow to President Obama and many of his Democratic allies in the health care fight, the plan recommends that there be no federal public option, but rather state or regional public-sponsored networks that would compete with private health plans, according to the summary released today by the Bipartisan Policy Center.

"If you want to stop this thing dead in its tracks, or dead on arrival, in my view you put the public plan in it," Dole said when asked whether there were any non-negotiables to deal with when drafting the bipartisan recommendations.

"I had a lot of trouble with [individual] mandates just as Tom had trouble with the public plan. ... But if we can't compromise, how do we expect anyone else, how are we going to get a bill passed," Dole said. "We weren't going let two or three issues derail our total effort."

The White House praised the Bipartisan Policy Center’s approach in a statement that continues to touch on only the broadest of goals.

"This group of extraordinarily experienced legislators agree with the President that health reform must be enacted this year because the status quo -- skyrocketing health care costs, rising premiums, swelling deficits – is unsustainable," said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.

"With this report, they have demonstrated what can be achieved with bipartisan effort. The Bipartisan Policy Center has produced a significant report, and the White House applauds their efforts," added Gibbs.

Both Dole and Daschle agreed that for health care reform to truly be considered bipartisan there would be at least 20 Republican votes needed.

"My colleagues and I believe this modest compromise could bring about a bridge that any riffs in the debate might otherwise generate," Daschle said. "I believe there will be a compromise on the public plan option in the very near future – if not our approach, then it will be one of the other proposals already being considerd as they circulate."

The bipartisan plan, which Dole said is totally cost neutral, taxes medical benefits of premiums exceeding $15,000 annually. As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama opposed any such taxing of health care benefits.

"Someone has to give; better everyone puts in the pot," he said.

Last Monday, the Congressional Budget Office estimated Sen. Kennedy's health care proposal at $1.3 trillion over ten years.

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