"Disputes over whether to create a new government-sponsored insurance program to compete with private companies shine a light on the intraparty fissures that may prove more problematic than any partisan brawl.
More than 70 House Democrats recently warned party leaders that they will not support a broad health reform bill that does not offer consumers a government-sponsored policy, and two unions withdrew from a high-profile health coalition because it would not endorse a public plan.
'It's way too early' to abandon what it considers a central plank in health reform, said Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union. He said the organization pulled out of the bipartisan Health Reform Dialogue because it feared its friends in the coalition were sacrificing core principles too soon. 'You don't make compromises with your allies.'"
Douglass disputed suggestions of a rift in the party. "The Democrats are extraordinarily unified this time around," she said.
Yet even administration allies acknowledged tensions over the public plan option.
"This issue has become so vituperative, a serious conversation about how to structure a public plan has gotten secondary attention," Pollack said.
Nichols, who has proposed creating a semi-public option that would have publicly appointed managers but no rate-setting authority, said the disagreement signals a new phase in the overall debate. As he put it: "We've gotten past the kumbaya phase."
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