Alaska senators say public option is battle point in health care bill

The Anchorage Daily NewsNovember 23, 2009 

A day after Alaska's senators voted against each other on health care reform, both said that plans to offer people the option to buy government-run health insurance won't survive the upcoming Senate fight as written.

As the Senate prepares for combat over overhauling national health care, this so-called "public option" is a key battleground.

Unlike a handful of centrist senators who have indicated they won't support health care reform that includes a public option, Democratic Sen. Mark Begich said it's not a deal-breaker.

"I'm not going to let the bill live or die on that single item," he said.

Democrats need every vote in hopes of passing a sweeping health care package. Over the weekend the Senate voted along party lines to proceed with debate on the bill.

Begich voted yes. Murkowski said no.

"If I thought that the base bill was worth progressing. I'd say, 'Yeah, lets move it. Lets start debating,'" Murkowski said.

"It's really tough to try and fix something when the base of it is just so wrong," she said.

Murkowski argues the health care bill would raise taxes, hurt small businesses and fail to lower insurance costs.

Begich said the proposal needs to be tweaked through an amendment process that should begin when senators return from their Thanksgiving recess, but the reforms will shield small business owners from crippling health care costs and ultimately lower the national deficit.

"It's in our best interest to deal with this problem now," he said.

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