By Huffington Post's Sam Stein and Ryan Grim Huff Post
UPDATE: Thursday, 5:26 PM -- Joe Shoemaker, a spokesman for Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democrat, said that the Majority Whip has a policy of not signing on to letters sent to leadership since, after all, he's a member of leadership. "That would be like sending a letter to himself," said Shoemaker, adding, "Durbin has a pretty clear record on his support for a public option."
He said that Durbin has yet to take a public position on whether the bill should be moved through reconciliation and wasn't immediately available. He has been traveling in Sudan and elsewhere in Africa for the last several days.
UPDATE: Thursday, 4:56 PM -- The White House is declining to comment on the push to reinsert the public option into the debate.
UPDATE: Thursday, 4:44 PM -- Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), a fairly conservative member, has signed the letter, according to organizers and to a spokesperson for Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), who's leading the charge.
UPDATE: Thursday, 4:40 PM -- Sen. Chris Dodd's (D-Conn.) office released a statement today that reiterates the senator's support for a public option for insurance coverage but doesn't touch the issue of whether he'd like to see the proposal passed using reconciliation.
"Senator Dodd is and always has been a strong supporter of the public option," the statement reads. "It was under his leadership that the HELP committee passed a bill with a strong public option last summer. And he will continue his work to get comprehensive health care reform passed."
It seems likely that the senator doesn't want to get ahead of the process. An upcoming health care summit with the White House and ongoing health care negotiations between Democratic leadership make discussion of reintroducing the public plan slightly premature. But it would be bizarre, if not highly unthinkable, to see Dodd oppose reconciliation to pass the provision after pushing it through committee and restating his support.
UPDATE: Thursday, 3:15 PM -- Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate, is backing the effort. Schumer's re-entry into the public option fight gives it a major boost. Schumer, as head of the party's campaign efforts in 2006 and 2008, elected one in six of those now in the caucus and is trusted for his political judgment. If Schumer thinks the public option effort is a political winner, his colleagues will take note.
Schumer made his announcement in a message to his supporters, obtained by HuffPost.
As you know, I've been committed to a strong public option throughout the entire health care reform process.
First it was in the Senate bill, then it was out. But now, thanks to the tenacity of a group of four Democratic Senators -- Michael Bennet (CO), Sherrod Brown (OH), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), and Jeff Merkley (OR) -- there is a renewed push to create a public option as part of health care reform.
I just added my name to their effort to pass a public option through the reconciliation process, and I wanted you to be the first to know.
This is far from a done deal, but it's an opportunity to break through the obstructionism Republicans have pushed for the past year.
Let's keep fighting,
UPDATE: Thursday, 2:49 PM -- For leading the public option effort, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) is under attack from conservative editorial boards and Republicans in Colorado.
In response, the groups helping organize outside support for the effort released a poll showing support for the public option in Colorado and asked local residents to write Bennet and thank him for the effort.
UPDATE: Thursday, 12:23 PM -- The Las Vegas Sun reports that while Nevada voters are opposed to the previous health care bill, they support moving it through by using reconciliation.
UPDATE: Thursday, 11:43 AM -- Adrianne Marsh, a spokesperson for Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), who is leading the effort, says that there are now 16 signatures on the letter calling for the public option to be moved through the Senate under reconciliation. The most recent to sign, said Marsh, is Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.).
UPDATE: Thursday, 11:21 AM -- "Senator Mikulski has signed on to that letter," says Rachel MacKnight, a spokeswoman to Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), up for reelection in 2010. Mikulski is a veteran lawmaker and chairwoman of a HELP subcommittee.
UPDATE: Thursday, 10:05 AM -- Organizers of the effort say that Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) have now signed on, bringing the number to 13.
UPDATE: Wednesday, 9:39 PM -- Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) are the latest to indicate support for the use of reconciliation to pass health care reform legislation that includes a public option.
The Minnesota Independent published part of a prepared statement from Klobuchar:
I would want to make sure that the bill contains the Medicare care cost reform measures included in the existing bill. I am also supportive of the President's efforts to forge a bipartisan agreement. We must reduce health care costs for the people of this country.
I support the House bill version of the public option which is based on negotiated rates. I do not support a public option based on Medicare rates because it exacerbates geographic disparities that already hurt Minnesota.
Susan Sullam, a spokeswoman for Sen. Cardin said Wednesday that "Senator Cardin has always been for a strong public option. He also has long thought reconciliation was a viable option for passing strong health care reform."
Neither Klobuchar nor Cardin appear ready to sign a letter penned by by four other senators endorsing both the public option and the use of reconciliation. Eleven senators have signed the the letter.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) became the 11th Senator to sign on to a new effort by Democrats to press Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to pass a public option for insurance coverage using reconciliation, her office confirmed to the Huffington Post on Wednesday.
The California Democrat joins a list of mostly progressive members to offer her late-stage support for the government run plan. In a letter to Reid on Tuesday a quartet of Democrats penned urged Reid to pass the proposal through parliamentary procedures that allow a simple up-or-down vote.
The senators outlined their rationale for supporting the public option in their letter:
We respectfully ask that you bring for a vote before the full Senate a public health insurance option under budget reconciliation rules.
There are four fundamental reasons why we support this approach - its potential for billions of dollars in cost savings; the growing need to increase competition and lower costs for the consumer; the history of using reconciliation for significant pieces of health care legislation; and the continued public support for a public option.
In putting her name among the signatories Feinstein expands the pool of senators pushing for a public plan beyond the progressive wing and those lawmakers facing primary challenges in the 2010 midterm elections. The California Democrat has been a supporter of the proposal from the start, though not a particularly vocal one. The recent news that the largest insurer in her home state, Anthem Blue Cross, was raising premiums on its customers by as much as 39 percent played a role in her decision.
"I can think of no better example of why we need health insurance reform," she said of the rate-hike news, "and this kind of behavior is a stark reminder of why any reform plan should establish a rate authority to keep insurance rates affordable."
The list of Senators currently signing the letter includes Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Michael Bennet (D-Col.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Pat Leahy (D-VT), Roland Burris (D-Ill.), John Kerry (D-Mass.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).
Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate health committee, isn't yet signing on to the effort, but said through a spokeswoman that he "has always strongly supported the public option and will continue to fight for comprehensive health care reform."