Three Dems Join GOP Bid to Force Congress Onto Any 'Public' Health Plan

Senators who support a government-run health plan, the so-called "public option," as part of legislation overhauling the health care system apparently are putting their money where their mouths are.

Three Senate Democrats on Friday embraced an amendment by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., a fierce opponent of a public option, to force all lawmakers to enroll in any government-controlled plan that is passed.

"Sen. Coburn is to be commended for his commitment to the public option," Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., said, with more than a drip of sarcasm. Dodd, along with Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, joined Republican Sens. David Vitter of Louisiana, Richard Burr of North Carolina and Orrin Hatch of Utah in publicly supporting the amendment.

"Seventeen years ago, when I first ran for Congress, I promised I'd pay my own health insurance until Congress passed health insurance for everyone," Brown said. "I've paid it out of my pocket since then. I look forward with great eagerness to join the public option as soon as it's available."

The amendment is one of many that senators are debating as Democratic leaders try to shape a bill that their caucus can coalesce around and overcome Republican opposition.

Coburn's amendment is intended to give pause to lawmakers who say a public option is essential to overhauling the U.S. health care system. By raising the prospect of forcing lawmakers to join any public plan that is passed, Coburn is betting that supporters won't be as sure-footed.

But it comes as no surprise that Dodd, Mikulski and Brown offered their support. The three Democrats helped pass the amendment out of the Senate health committee in August when it was first introduced. Other Democrats, however, weren't as supportive, saying the amendment was flawed because it suggested the public option would be the only plan available.

Sen. Judd Gregg was the only Republican on the Senate Health committee to vote against the Coburn amendment, saying he wouldn't put anyone -- not his constituents or his fellow senators -- in a public plan.