In a closed-door meeting of Senate Finance Committee Democratic members and their staff Wednesday evening, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) suggested that if the committee bill didn't have enough votes for a public option it include a ten-year delay between passage of health care reform and the implementation of a public option that Americans could buy into, according to two Democratic aides.
Under the plan floated by Kerry, a public health care option would only be triggered by private insurance companies failing to meet certain criteria after ten years. Known as the "trigger" in legislative lingo, the idea is vociferously opposed by health care advocates who consider it the death of reform.
Reform advocates say that the system is already broken and that there's no need to wait any longer, also warning that the insurance industry might be able to game the criteria and prevent the public plan trigger from ever being pulled.
One source familiar with Kerry's unexpected suggestion said that the idea seemed to have little impact on the meeting and that the senators quickly moved on.
Kerry has expressed his strong personal support for a public option without a trigger that would be available immediately.
But the Finance Committee is more conservative than the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and getting a public option through without a trigger will be a political challenge. Ranking Republican Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) has shown little interest in compromise so far, leaving Maine's Olympia Snowe as the likeliest Republican to cross the committee aisle. Snowe has said she would support a public option but only with a trigger.
The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and Finance bills will be combined once they both move through their respective committees.
A Kerry spokeswoman did not immediately return a request for comment.
UPDATE: Kerry spokeswoman Jodi Seth responds with a statement: "Let's be clear, if Sen. Kerry had his way, there'd be no debate: we'd have universal coverage tomorrow with a strong public plan at its core. Sen. Kerry strongly supports a robust public option and has been pushing for it since day one of this debate. When he ran for president, he campaigned on a public option and everywhere he went he reminded the country that Congress shouldn't deny them the public health care that Members of Congress give themselves. The past five years have only strengthened that conviction. Any suggestion that he prefers proposals that would delay or trigger the implementation of a public plan is outright false, end of story. But it's no secret that the Finance Committee is looking at a whole range of progressive options with an eye on what can make its way to the president's desk to become law, and obviously if it's the only way to get universal health coverage then people will consider a trigger that ultimately guarantees a strong public option."
The first paragraph of the story has been changed to make clear that Kerry suggested a trigger only if it becomes impossible to get the votes for a public option without one.
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