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Senate likely to drop Medicare buy-in

Shailagh Murray And Lori Montgomery Washington Post

WASHINGTON – Senate Democratic leaders appeared poised Monday night to abandon efforts to create a government-run insurance safety net in their push for health care reform as they attempted to close ranks around a bill they hoped would win the backing of all 60 members of their caucus.

Democratic negotiators had already disappointed liberal lawmakers by jettisoning a full-fledged public insurance plan a week earlier. Monday night, party leaders conceded that the compromise they crafted to replace the public option – which included a proposal allowing people as young as 55 to buy into Medicare – also did not have sufficient support from Democratic moderates to overcome a likely Republican filibuster.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., rallied his caucus in a closed-door meeting Monday evening, reminding senators that there was broad consensus behind most of the provisions in the $848 billion package and warning them of the consequences of not passing a bill before the end of the year.

“Democrats are not going to let the American people down,” he told reporters after the meeting. “I am confident that by next week, we will be on our way to final passage.”

The full contents of the legislation likely won’t be known until today, when the Congressional Budget Office is expected to provide an official cost analysis.

Senate Democrats will head to the White House this afternoon to meet with President Barack Obama. The Medicare buy-in proposal, announced last week by 10 moderate and liberal Democrats, was applauded as a worthy effort by Obama but received a cool reception from a small but crucial bloc of Democratic senators who have not committed to supporting the bill.

On Sunday, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., whose vote is needed to break a GOP filibuster, appeared to deal the proposal a mortal blow when he told Reid he would not support any form of buy-in.

Although no final decision is expected until the CBO data are in hand, Democrats left a 90-minute emergency caucus meeting Monday night convinced of the proposal’s demise. “It’s looking like that’s the case,” said Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont.

Liberal senators took the news with surprising ease. “We’ve got to move it,” said the health committee’s chairman, Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. “There’s good stuff in the bill. It’s a giant step forward. We’re changing the paradigm of health care in America.”

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